SYDNEY – The New South Wales Waratahs are not the first rugby team to come away from Invercargill chastened but the crushing 49-12 loss to the Otago Highlanders that ended their 2019 Super Rugby season must raise some serious questions.
That the Waratahs were still in with a shot at the playoffs going into the final match of the regular season despite a 6-9 record was a reflection of a Super Rugby competition that was more open than usual.
Any doubts about whether the Waratahs deserved that spot were removed over 40-something bruising first half minutes when they shipped 42 points to the team that took the Super Rugby title away from them in 2015.
There have been distractions this year, not least the protracted and wounding Israel Folau saga, but the bottom line is that Australia's richest and best-resourced state has failed to reach the playoffs for three of the last four years.
Coach Daryl Gibson has presided over those four campaigns and it is perhaps a measure of how low expectations have fallen in Australian rugby that he was granted a contract extension to the end of 2020 in February.