Canberra - Former Wallabies backs coach Glen Ella has taken an extraordinary shot at the Waratahs coaching staff for their failure to adopt an expansive game this year, even going as far as to say that the Chris Hickey-led panel "don't know what they are doing".
Ella's outburst followed the Waratahs' 21-11 loss to the Brumbies at Canberra Stadium on Friday night, despite it being their first defeat in five rounds. While the loss stemmed mainly from the Waratahs' relative weakness in defence and at the breakdown, their wayward midfield kicking didn't help.
"They are getting bagged for negative rugby," Ella said. "I have to agree with it. It's not good enough. NSW Rugby need to have a look at that. [But] they will grind away and win games by a couple of points and say it was a successful season, starting to get bums on seats …"
Ella says Kurtley Beale's game is off, but the NSW playmaker was not the only Waratah who is failing to deliver and blames the coaches for that.
"The NSW coaching staff need to have a good look at themselves," Ella said. "Obviously, [Beale] is not playing well, but I don't think the team is really playing well.
"We keep on talking about the style of rugby they are playing. I know for certain … that Kurtley wants to run the ball and play an expansive game. They just kick the ball too much. It is just a kickathon with NSW. They don't do anything constructive. For the first 10 minutes [last Friday night] it looked like they were going to run the ball against the Brumbies, but they then went straight back into their shell. They have got the best back line in Australia and they don't run the ball.
"And they are getting to the stage where they think they don't know how to run the ball. The skills are terrible. The catch and pass are terrible. They've got all these coaches … I don't think the coaches know what they are doing."
Ella is astounded that Beale has not been called on to spread the ball wide to wingers Lachie Turner and Lote Tuqiri.
But when the season began, Hickey said calling the plays was no longer the No.10's job. That was handed to the centres, while the back three were to act as the back line's "eyes and ears".
However, last week, Turner told the Herald that he and Tuqiri were desperate to run with the ball. Even then, NSW's only try against the Brumbies near full-time did not come off a back-line move, but a Tuqiri chip-kick across the field to Turner who scored. "Tuqiri, Norton-Knight … they are great runners of the ball. Give it to them," Ella said. "Lachie Turner … other than in broken field play, I can't remember the last time Lachie got the ball from a first-phase move.
"He would be the most frustrated footballer in Australian rugby. Against Queensland he got a couple of good breaks, but they were on his own bat … nothing structured."
While Ella disagrees, there is growing belief NSW should move Beale from No.10 by promoting Daniel Halangahu off the bench, or moving Sam Norton-Knight in from fullback. But the latter is playing well and the defensive risk of Beale there was shown on Friday when Tyrone Smith barrelled him over during Norton-Knight's stint in the blood bin.
The best option for No.10 may be to pick Halangahu, a tempo player known for his quick, consistent and accurate service, and recall hard-running Tom Carter to inside centre. The pair already form an effective 10-12 combination in club rugby at Sydney University.
Beale's unpredictable flair could be more potent off the bench against tired opponents, which would require NSW to play a running game. Ella believes that will not happen, judging by how deep Beale is made to stand at five-eighth. "That's obviously the way they want him to play. When you move forward, and NSW normally move forward with a pack, you've got to stand flatter to attack the line," he said. "You need to start taking the ball to the line, and that's when he [will] become the running threat and can pick up the runners."