A disastrous decline: 10 Years since the Waratahs won the Super Rugby title and reasons behind growing list of problems
It is August 2 2014 and Transformers: Age of Extinction is crushing the box office.
“Happy” by Pharrell Williams has every parent in Australia pulling their hair out.
Meanwhile, a Warringah local who attended a prestigious rugby school is currently Australia’s Prime Minister.
Another key moment is the Super Rugby final at Stadium Australia, played between the number one ranked team in the competition, New South Wales Waratahs against the Christchurch Crusaders.
The Waratahs walked away with a 33-32 triumph lead on the backs of Michael Hooper and Bernard Foley, and the atmosphere of Australian rugby was roaring in excitement.
Ten years later, Micheal Bay is still making the Transformers films (but they do not perform well), Pharrell Williams is far out of the public zeitgeist and that Warringah local has been replaced in the top job by a boy raised by a single mom in Marrickville.
Most importantly, the Waratahs lost 41-12 to the Auckland Blues in the quarterfinals.
The landscape of international rugby has shifted massively over the past ten years and the Waratahs’ fall from grace can be explained for two reasons.
1. The Ascension of South Africa
In 2014, the Super Rugby tournament consisted of fifteen teams; five from each country: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
This high level of competition fosters fantastic match-ups and it provides the Waratahs with great opportunities to play against strong South African forward packs with agile backs and improve the team’s skills.
However, the South African flight from Super Rugby in favour of European Rugby in August 2020 has drastically affected the NSW side.
With the absence of fantastic talent to play against, the Waratahs playing standards have dropped.
Since the exit from Super Rugby, South African teams have competed highly in the United Rugby Championship and against English and French teams in the European Rugby Championships as well as resounding victories in the Rugby Championships whilst Super Rugby and the Waratahs lag behind.
2. Lack of Public Support and Shrinking Pool of Talent
Rugby in Australia has been falling in popularity over the last twenty years, particularly in the last ten and specifically, in Australia’s largest populated state, New South Wales.
The growing sports market in NSW is consistently shoving rugby and the Waratahs to the back of the bus.
Both the NRL and AFL continue to eat into rugby’s viewers particularly with rugby league taking long-time viewers away from rugby with exciting games.
There is also a growing media presence in Sydney with teams like the Sydney Roosters from the Eastern Suburbs and the Penrith Panthers from Western Sydney which takes ticket holders and TV viewers away from long-time rugby strongholds.
In 2014, the Waratahs were some of the hottest tickets in town; ten years later, the Waratahs were lucky to get 10,000 fans to games at Allianz Stadium.
The final reason that clearly highlights how the Waratahs have failed this past decade is the shrinking pool of talent the Waratahs have to pull from.
Twenty out of the thirty Waratahs players attended prestigious rugby schools in Sydney such as the Kings School in North Parramatta and St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill.
This diminishing batch of players is hurting the Waratahs as the quality of the players is lower and it does not help the public image of rugby in New South Wales as being a prestigious schoolboy sport played in ultra-rich private schools in the Eastern Suburbs and Lower North Shore.
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Ten years on from that nail-biting finale in Olympic Park, the Waratahs have been in sharp decline, however, there appears to be hope with Darren Coleman and a young squad of Wallabies heading into the 2024 season.
This young team must stand up and fight or it might spell the start of another disappointing decade for Australia’s largest rugby club.