After five straight ugly defeats, Rob Penney says he needs more than the backing of the NSW Rugby board to save the Waratahs from sinking to an unprecedented low. He needs targeted recruiting.
The Waratahs face the grim – and increasingly likely – prospect of becoming the first Australian team in 25 years of Super Rugby to endure a winless season.
Saturday night’s 46-14 loss to the Queensland Reds again demonstrated the chasm in class between the cash-strapped and rookie Tahs and their rivals in Super Rugby AU, let alone the ruthless New Zealand opposition to follow.
“We need resources and we need to strategically recruit in a couple of areas so the organisation can move forward more quickly than just relying on the youthful guys to come through,” Penney said.
After opening with record defeats to the Brumbies and Queensland, and handing the Western Force their first Super win since 2017, the Waratahs fell to the Melbourne Rebels before conceding the most points to the Reds in a Super Rugby fixture.
“There’s a whole lot of issues that have culminated in what now is a very ugly looking run of games,” Penney said.
“If it wasn’t for the calibre of people in the organisation and the calibre of men that are in the group trying to do the jersey proud, then this would have blown up and disintegrated massively.
“No one likes it. No one is enjoying it, in terms of the results, but there’s a real resolve to try to get better every week.”
Despite the strain, the embattled coach reaffirmed his commitment to the job.
“I love what I’m doing,” the Kiwi said.
“With the initial stages when I was bought in, it was (a question of) could I bring a young group through?
“Of course I can. I would back my record against anyone to be able to do that.
“(But) you do need to have a combination of youth surrounded by experience.”
Then there’s the side’s injury crisis, which started when they lost captain Jake Gordon in the opening round.
Even Reds coach Brad Thorn felt for Penney when the Waratahs lost both their starting second-rowers inside 15 minutes on Saturday.
“It was brutal,” Thorn said, urging the NSW Rugby board to “play the long game” with Penney like the Reds did with him during their own rebuild.
Penney didn’t want to make excuses but he said after 20 minutes the Waratahs “basically (had) a colts pack out there”.
“The reality of that is the repercussions are on the whole team because our set piece isn’t dominating and it’s never going to be able to dominate with the youthfulness and lack of experience,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean they’re bad footballers. It just means they’re not mature enough to compete yet at this level.
“But there’s enough quality in them that in the near future they will rise into those roles.”