The NRL pic inspiring the Tahs
A STRIKING picture of a Melbourne Storm wolf pack and advice from leading NRL coaches are among the tools Daryl Gibson has used to help rebuild the Waratahs' defence from the rubble of the 2017 season.
NSW had one of their poorest ever campaigns last year and defence was the major problem.
In a record-worst season, the Waratahs leaked an average of 35 points and conceded over 40 points seven times in 15 games. In 281 games prior, NSW had only ever let in 40 points or more 12 times.
After defensive coach Nathan Grey left the post to join the Wallabies full-time, head coach Gibson took on the defence portfolio.
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With no direct experience in defence coaching, Gibson sought out ex-Souths coach Michael Maguire, Roosters coach Trent Robinson and Kiwis coach David Kidwell to "pick their brains". He also spent time with the Swans.
"I really just probed them around what they see as key things that make the difference defensively," Gibson said.
"The more I spoke with them the more you get a picture if you can do the simple stuff really well, get your structures in place, get them fit and get your intent right, then you're a long way towards being a hard team to break down.
"A lot of our focus has been on that effort and capacity area, to be able to then put some systems in place that the boys can execute. I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge."
Gibson said he'd shown a photo to his squad of Cowboys wing Kyle Feldt being chased by a gang of desperate Storm players in the 2017 NRL Grand Final.
"I just look at the beautiful photo of the Melbourne Storm in the grand final, the Cowboys guy made the break down the left and there's about eight Storm players hunting him down and that, to me, encapsulates that effort and desire to want to defend," Gibson said.
"In terms of where we want to go, we need to build that capacity to be a team that can deliver that."
A squad-wide lift in conditioning and strength has therefore been a welcome result of the Waratahs pre-season.
With respected Wallabies conditioning coach Brad Harrington now running the show, over 75% of the Tahs players have recorded PBs in testing, said Gibson.
Much to the coach's delight, too, is even Wallabies players who only returned to full training in recent weeks are registering PBs too.
"Both Beale and Folau have recorded personal bests, ever, on their 1.2 (kilometre 'Bronco' shuttle) times," Gibson said.
"So that's a good sign, when you have players at their age and the number of tests they've done, when they arrive in that sort of condition. So I am really pleased with where we are at fitness-wise, because that was one of the key corner stones to our season that we wanted to get right."
The Waratahs will fly to New Zealand to play the Highlanders on Friday night in their opening trial match. Most Wallabies stars will not travel but Curtis Rona, Tom Robertson and Ned Hanigan will play alongside wider squad members looking to press claims to Gibson.
Folau will stay at home but Gibson said the decision made to rest the star no. 15 during the Spring Tour will pay dividends.
"It's been excellent - he's had that eight week rest and he is straight back in and looking good," he said.
"We are obviously going to receive a number of benefits from that, but I honestly believe Australia will too."