Life Without Matt Dunning

As the Waratahs playing style goes from uglier to uglier with predictable results it has become clear that the vital ingredient missing from this year’s campaign is last year’s lynch pin, inspiration, mascot and frequent bench warmer Matt Dunning.

Dunning is the only player in the Waratahs squad who can challenge Phil Waugh in the ugly stakes. In 2008 they formed a potent partnership that ultimately led to Super 14 glory and disappointment. The Waratahs had a perfectly balanced attack in 2008, balanced between beauty and ugly. It was a classic fairytale with the princesses of the backline enjoying all the attention and the wicked sisters of the forward pack doing all the work.

With Dunning playing, the Waratahs threw the ball around searching for points. Sure this was mainly to make up for the points that he gave away with missed tackles, misguided field goals (and well guided field goals) and various other indiscretions, but it’s not important why a team attacks it’s just important that they are attacking.

Last year the Waratahs perfected the art of the quick ball out to Lote Tuquiri via a cut out pass, a necessary requirement to avoid putting it in the hands of Dunning who was usually out bludging in the centres. Same with the short chip and well aimed bomb that was such a vital and now missing component of Kurtley Beale’s game; look at the space on the open side of the field, realise if you spin the ball out that way Dunning is likely to do something stupid with it, kick to where Dunning isn’t.

Even with Dunning on the bench the mere threat of him running onto the field was enough to inspire dynamic backline movements as the team strove to ensure that the match was won before he had a chance to stuff things up.

With Dunning gone the Waratahs’ are rudderless. Every player wants to embrace the ball and do their own thing with it so by the time it makes it to the wing the cover defence has not only had time to get there but also to gather all their forwards together and set a scrum in anticipation of yet another Waratahs knock on while having a long winded talk to the touch judge about the ELVs.

It’s time to bring back Dunning. Even he just spends the whole match sitting on the bench or hobbling around in midfield his inspirational presence will be enough to ensure Waratah success.