CHRIS HICKEY is ready to revamp the Waratahs back line in a desperate bid to kick-start a finals charge.
While the NSW coach was pleased with his side’s defence – second only to that of the Crusaders in points conceded – he is frustrated by his back line’s lack of firepower. The Waratahs’ season points tally of 169 from 10 rounds is ranked 11th.
The Waratahs fell to sixth place on 28 points after Saturday night’s defeat to the Western Force at the Sydney Football Stadium.
When asked if he might reconfigure his back line now opponents seem able to read their game, Hickey said: "That’s an area we have got to have a really close look at. Our defence is right up there. But in attack, we haven’t really been able to fire."
Hickey is set to name a 26-man squad on Wednesday for the Waratahs’ tour to South Africa for games against the Cheetahs, Sharks and Lions. The squad that leaves on Saturday during their bye round will include the 22 who were picked for the Force game, two players recently back from injury in tight-head prop Al Baxter and centre Rob Horne plus an extra forward and back.
The latter two should be openside breakaway Beau Robinson, who impressed for Warringah in the Shute Shield on Saturday, and utility back Matt Carraro or winger Ratu Nasiganiyavi, who played for Randwick after being sidelined for three months with a fractured foot.
As for back-line tweaks? Tom Carter has been strong at No.12 this season but his eagerness to carry the ball up has become predictable. Assuming Horne will return to outside-centre, one option could be to shift Timana Tahu from No.13 to 12.
Another is to bring Sam Norton-Knight in from fullback to five-eighth and move Daniel Halangahu from No.10 to inside-centre. While relatively slight in build, Halangahu has the mettle to be a physical distributor at No.12. His calming influence has been shown in his games at No.10 recently, performances that may have even brought him into contention for a Wallabies squad place at five-eighth.
Force playmaker Matt Giteau is a clear leader there, followed by Reds pivot Quade Cooper. But, along with the Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano, Halangahu – whose experience is another valued quality – has done wonders to raise his profile this season.
The Waratahs, expected to announce several contractual developments this week, still risk losing Halangahu altogether. Doing so would be a huge mistake.
Now off contract, Halangahu hopes to settle his future soon, having received half a dozen offers from clubs in the United Kingdom, France, Japan and even Australia.
Hickey is not worried that negotiations involving Halangahu and other NSW players will distract the Waratahs from their preparations this week. The Waratahs have courted players from other sides as well including Force centre James O’Connor and winger-fullback Drew Mitchell.
"It is unfortunate the middle of the Super 14 is when the contracting season is on," Hickey said. "I am sure players on every team have been approached. That is the way business operates. I don’t see it as a distraction or anything."
But the enormity of NSW’s challenge in South Africa is not lost on any of the squad. "We have made life hard for ourselves," Hickey said after Saturday night’s loss, when he was left believing the Waratahs needed to win all three of their games in South Africa.
But yesterday he was more optimistic. "If we can win two games with a bonus point in each, given the log jam in the comp, we are still in with a chance of the four," he said. "If we win all three, I reckon we are still in with the possibility of hosting a home semi."