Gibson pleased with Waratahs progress ahead of crucial 2018 Super Rugby season

NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson says he’s happy with the progress his squad has made since this year’s disastrous Super Rugby campaign came to an end in July.

While a host of the Tahs bigger names have impressed for the Wallabies, the three NSW NRC sides have struggled to compete against some of the more experienced teams in the competition, however Gibson said he’s not overly concerned with the poor results.

“The NSW teams are further down on the ladder compared to previous years but I think the competition is certainly giving players opportunities like it was designed to,” Gibson said.

“It’s a necessary part of the rugby pathway in this country now and in NSW, giving our guys exposure to this level of rugby is critical, particularly for the younger players.”

After a short break at the end of the Super Rugby season, the non-Wallaby squad members returned to training as part of a “transformation group” and began a pre-preseason at the Waratahs, on top of their commitments with their respective NRC sides.

“We’ve been able to work on our players strength and conditioning at the Waratahs, while they’re still playing rugby each week with their NRC sides, so I think it’s a really valuable time at the moment,” Gibson said.

“Regardless of results, all of our guys are getting exposure to rugby at a higher level and they’re getting a chance to play against experienced guys week in, week out. That’s important and I really like that we’re getting as much rugby as possible into our players.”

While Gibson admitted the growing injury lists at all three NSW NRC sides wasn’t ideal, he said he was pleased to see some of the younger squad and academy members step up into the third tier competition.

“Guys like Harry Johnson Holmes, Lachlan Swinton, unfortunately Cody Walker has been injured, Ryan McCauley is back playing. I think the competition is made for those players and when you look at the young guys playing with QLD Country at the moment, they’re getting so much positive exposure, it can only be a good thing.”

The Waratahs won just four of 15 matches in 2017 and finished 16th overall and fourth in the Australian conference behind the Brumbies, Force and Reds, however Gibson said the form of his Wallabies players throughout the Rugby Championship excited him ahead of next season.

“In terms of development, I’ve been really pleased to see Jack Dempsey and Ned Hanigan get exposure at Test level and that is obviously going to create more competition between them,” he said.

“Then obviously, we’re thrilled with the form of Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale, they’re combining really well and that’s a positive sign for next season.”

While Beale remains the Waratahs main signing for 2018, Gibson said that Waratahs management were still looking to add a number of new faces to the squad in the coming months.

“We’re all still a little unsure about how the Force players are going to be distributed. It’s a bit of an ongoing process but we’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to strengthen our squad and add some depth and I think that will see the four remaining Australian sides improve next year.

“We’d really like to pick up a prop, a lock and a centre, that will complete our squad.”

Last week, NSW Schoolboys lock Nick Frost was signed by the Crusaders on a development contract just days after starring for Australian Schools against New Zealand in Sydney.

While Gibson said he’d never begrudge a player for taking up an opportunity, he admitted Australia rugby could still do more to secure its young talent.

“I think we can certainly look at what they do in New Zealand, where they make the players sign a loyalty agreement to remain in rugby for the next season before the schoolboys team is picked.

“We’re certainly making moves towards an academy type system with our development pathways, it’s certainly on the agenda and I know Ben Whitaker and the guys at the ARU are working hard to find ways to improve the opportunities we provide for our young players.

“The main thing though is that at some stage, guys like Nick come back because we need those types of players playing in Australia.”