Waratahs face tough battle defending their Super Rugby title in 2015

No one said it would be easy but a gruelling 10 straight games and two defining clashes on South Africa’s highveld say going back to back will be a challenge for the Waratahs next year.

After byes in round three and eight, well before the season reaches its halfway point next year, and no awkward break for the June Test series, the Waratahs face a long road to a potential second consecutive finals campaign.

The reigning Super Rugby champions will finish their season with a two-week tour to Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to play the Lions and Cheetahs at altitude before heading home for a final-round home clash with the Reds.

There was also good news in the 2015 Super Rugby draw, which has been rejigged to accommodate next year’s World Cup.

All three conferences start in the same week in mid-February, and the Waratahs kick off their season with a Sunday afternoon home clash against the Western Force on February 15.

It will be one of two home games held in the popular 4pm timeslot. In a coup for NSW administrators, who struggled to capitalise on the benefits of afternoon football without commercially attractive opposition teams, the Waratahs will host the Brumbies in the second game on March 22.

But fans face a long wait between home games early on. After hosting the Force, the Waratahs will not play in Sydney for a month until their Brumbies homecoming at the end of March.

There will be a grand final rematch – the Crusaders fly across the ditch to play their newly minted bogy team on May 23 – but then Michael Cheika and his team hit the road to tour South Africa in round 16.

The Waratahs will not play the Bulls or two-time champions the Chiefs next year but play every other New Zealand and South African team once and every Australian team home and away.

McCabe realised the worst

Pat McCabe has opened up about the moment he knew his rugby career was over in a television interview this week.

The 24-Test centre retired last month after suffering his third neck injury in two years in the Wallabies’ 51-20 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park.

Wearing a heavy neck brace on Rugby HQ on Thursday night, McCabe said he had a “fair idea” he had played his last Test.

“Having done it twice before, I knew exactly what that pain felt like,” he said. “I probably stayed on there a little bit longer in that passage of play, which in hindsight maybe I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t really want to submit to knowing that that was probably the last time I’d walk off [a rugby pitch].

“As I was sitting on the bench watching it was a pretty dark time knowing I was heading to the hospital again to have scans. There was a decent chance they weren’t going to be too good.”

Now seeing out his contract in the corporate arm of the ACT Brumbies while he finishes off a dual commerce-law degree, McCabe also headed off speculation he had put his long-term health at risk by returning from the previous two injuries.

“Each of the times, if anyone said I was taking a ridiculous risk in terms of potential paralysis or anything like that, then I wouldn’t have come back,” he said.

“But I still had a really strong, burning desire to come back. I felt like I hadn’t achieved the things that I wanted to, and while I’m sitting here in this [neck brace] I’m still very glad that I did come back each of those times.”

Robinson dressed to thrill

Waratahs fans would have been delighted to hear of Benn Robinson’s return to the Wallabies squad for the Test team’s two-week tour of South Africa and Argentina.

Let’s hope they give him the full kit this time.

When the veteran prop was called up to join the squad on the Gold Coast last week, all he was handed was one set of training gear.

“I was there hand-washing my gear after every session in the sink. I was scrubbing away … I wanted to make sure the front-rowers knew I wasn’t too smelly,” he told Fairfax Media.

Asked on Thursday, after his tour call-up, if he expected the full monty this time, he said, laughing: “I shouldn’t have said that … I hope so. We’ll be in camp three or four days. Hopefully I’ll get kitted up.”

Making the grade

If the National Rugby Championship is struggling, in its first four weeks of operation, to put bums on seats at stadiums around the country, it cannot be questioned from a talent development perspective.

North Harbour Rays back-rower Michael Wells became the latest player to be snapped up from the third tier competition, earning a full-time contract with the men’s sevens squad after coming to the attention of new coach Geraint John.

Wells, Northern Suburbs captain and former 2012 Australian under-20s representative, is set to be followed into the professional sphere by the likes of Andrew Kellaway(NSW Country) and Jack Dempsey (Rays), who look to have been picked up by the Waratahs next year.

Busy year in the job

Happy anniversary to Tim Walsh, coach of Australian rugby’s top-ranked team, the women’s sevens squad.

Walsh marks a year in the job on Friday and has been a busy man, lifting Australia from mid-table in the world series rankings to No.2 behind New Zealand and helping produce Australia’s very own IRB women’s sevens player of the year, Emilee Cherry.

Not at all bad. Now there’s just the small matters of qualifying for the Olympics and winning a gold medal. No bother!