Waratahs say coaching row won’t overshadow Semi-final



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Senior NSW Waratahs players pledged Friday that coach Ewen McKenzie’s controversial sacking would not disrupt preparations for their Super 14 semi-final clash against the Sharks in Sydney.

McKenzie was told last month his contract would not be renewed at the end of the year, as the Waratahs languished at sixth place on the Super 14 table and faced criticism for playing boring rugby.

But since then the side has rallied to finish second on the ladder of the southern hemisphere provincial competition and earn a lucrative home semi-final that will pour up to 700,000 dollars (672,000 US) in extra revenue into NSW Rugby coffers.

Adding to the NSW Rugby Union board’s embarrassment, McKenzie was on Thursday named Australia’s Super 14 coach of the year, the third time he has picked up the award in his five years at the club.

Former Wallabies coach Alan Jones, now a high-profile talkback radio host in Sydney, condemned the board’s decision and said it was fitting McKenzie’s sacking was announced on April 1.

“I think it is appropriate that he was sacked on April Fool’s Day, the only conjecture is who were the fools?” Jones said.

Jones said it would be the “final humiliation” for the NSW Rugby board if the Waratahs won their first Super 14 title with McKenzie at the helm.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this week ran pictures of the three board members behind McKenzie’s departure wearing dunce caps, while the Sydney Morning Herald likened them to kamikaze pilots “hell-bent on bringing the Waratahs down with them”.

Waratahs captain Phil Waugh said speculation about the coaching position had been rife all season and would not be a distraction for the semi-final.

“I guess it’s part of the game here in New South Wales,” he told reporters Friday.

“It’s been there all year so we’re not too fussed about it. The guys have been focused on playing rugby.”


Flanker Rocky Elsom said the coaching row had taken the pressure off the players in the lead up to the big game.

“In a way it’s good for us, let (us) just get on with what we do,” he said.

But Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill this week expressed frustration that the Waratah’s achievement in becoming the sole Australia semi-finalist was not receiving the recognition it deserved.

“They finished second in one of the toughest competitions in world rugby and all the focus deserves to be on the team,” he said.

For his part, McKenzie has dismissed talk his team will be motivated by a desire to prove his detractors wrong and even said he would consider staying on at NSW if the board bowed to pressure to reverse its decision.

“If there’s an opportunity, I’m happy to talk about it,” he said this week.

The NSW Rugby Union has said McKenzie’s replacement will not be named until the Super 14 campaign is over.

Sapa-AFP – Super14.com

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