The Waratahs will hit the road in preparation for season 2014 with their three pre-season matches locked in-place. The road trip will see the Waratahs kick off their trials on the NSW and Victorian border at Albury, before returning to Sydney’s Allianz Stadium for game two. The Waratahs then head to Newcastle for their final hit out prior to the commencement of the Super Rugby Season.
The Waratahs will take on interstate rivals the Rebels, on the banks of the Murray River in Albury on Saturday 1st February. Next up, is Sir John Kirwan’s Auckland Blues at Allianz Stadium on Friday night, 7th February. The Highlanders in the steel city’s Hunter Stadium on February 14 completes the Waratahs pre-season program.
Despite travelling close to 1500 kilometres NSW coach Michael Cheika is adamant they are not away games and the NSW country can expect more in the future.
“They are actually home games since they are all in NSW. We will have to wait a couple of seasons for the possibility of taking our Super Rugby matches to the country areas so any chance we can we want to play in front of our country supporters.”
But it’s not just about playing, during the drive they’ll be doing their best to connect with every community they pass through and more and the coach is ready to shake plenty of hands.
“For me the fans run the game. Power to support the team, passion to drive the team to become better, even though a lot of our country fans are not able to get to the games, there is strong support for rugby in the country and we want to make stronger support for Waratahs in the country. We have done a lot out in the country over the past 12 months and we are going to be doing a lot more with a country blitz for juniors later in the year. The Waratahs want to get to the juniors and young kids following the games, watching us play and getting excited about possibly playing for the Waratahs in the future and as a state representative team it’s really important that they are doing that,”
The Waratahs will be out to meet and greet as many fans as possible on the way to Albury, and it’s not just the rugby fans the Waratahs are hoping to interact with. The engagement objective is simple, it doesn’t matter what team or code you follow, if you’re from NSW, Cheika says you can support the Waratahs.
“I’ve been a part of strong teams, both as a player & as a coach and those teams have had a strong connection between their fans and the team. Fans are like an extra man for a team. When we travel to the country and players see the support they get it makes them feel a real sense of responsibility to the fans. We are playing for all these people, and that’s the sort of responsibility we want and need to carry.”
Three months of hard work preparing for the first game doesn’t end on the way to Albury, the Waratahs squad will continue work and train together, with plenty of sessions for the fans to see on route.
With safety a premium, only one car is equipped to deliver and that’s Volvo. They will supply the cars among them will be a XC60, XC90, S60, V40 and V60. The Waratahs Volvo community drive kicks off on Tuesday and first stop is the Kings School, one of the oldest rugby playing schools in the nation, after that there’s a 4 hour Volvo car event at Eastern Creek. Day one ends in Wollongong.
- Wednesday morning, school visits are top priority, after that it’s off to the Bradman Museum followed by a get together with the locals at Bradman Oval.
- Thursday the Waratahs continue to motor south for a day in Goulburn.
- Saturday in Albury, it’s all about preparation for the game and hundreds are expected to turn up for the Captain’s run at the Albury Sports Ground the day before the game. Not the physical contact they are used to, but just as important says Cheika.
“A lot of the lads come from the country areas, so we’ll be making some stops along the way, to renew our links with the rural community of NSW. Some of those places have probably felt some connection to the Brumbies in the past but if it’s in NSW, we would love the people to want to support their state’s team.”
The Rebels are the current holders of the Weary Dunlop Shield after a 2 point win over the Waratahs in 2013. Adding to the rivalry Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps will take on former teammates while assistant coach Nathan Grey will coach against his former club for the first time after spending three seasons with the Rebels
“It will be great, a good challenge and fun to see all the Rebels players but also be a bit weird to see them on the other side of the of the fence. I am really looking forward to the game and it will be great for the Waratahs to finally have their first hit out after a long pre season.”
In the Waratahs second pre-season trial they face the Blues and Waratahs assistant coach and former All Black Daryl Gibson believes it could be a promoters dream, with a convert Benji Marshall making his first foray into senior rugby and he could be facing up to Kurtley Beale .
“Watching Benji transition from league to union will be interesting especially given the very successful debut season by Israel Folau. ”
Assisting Marshall’s transformation is a young and exciting backline that has a mix of experience with Ma Nonu plus exciting youngsters Charlie Piutau, Francis Saili and Frank Halai as well as last season’s leading try scorer in Super Rugby, Frank Halai.
There’s a lot at stake in the final trial against the Highlanders at Newcastle’s Hunter Stadium. Forget were the Highlanders finished 2013 ,they’ll be brutal at the breakdown, and out to boost their confidence before game one knowing a win against the Waratahs would certainly do that. For the Waratahs, it’s the last chance to impress the coach and show team mates they want a spot in the opening game against the Western Force.
“We will learn a bit about ourselves against the Highlanders, they are a contact based team and that will test us in different ways.” claims Gibson.
Newcastle is also firmly entrenched in the history of the game in NSW. Four years after the NSWRU was founded in 1884, came the formation of the Newcastle Rugby Union, known as the Northern Branch. Newcastle Rugby has supplied 25 Wallabies, taking a game to Hunter Stadium is simply a matter of honouring tradition.
“If they weren’t there to support and watch us there would be no professional game, if you play rugby in a full stadium compared to an empty stadium the game is just not as good, it is that simple.
Three top quality trials before the Waratahs open their 2014 Super Rugby campaign against the Western Force at Allianz Stadium on February 23rd.
The Waratahs who were on the Wallabies Spring tour against the four nations England Ireland Scotland and Wales plus a match against Italy return to training with the NSW squad mid January.