Greg Growden February 18, 2012
THE Waratahs haven’t always been smart in the recruitment ranks, but they look as if they have secured a good one in South African halfback Sarel Pretorius.
The former Cheetah was a standout in the opening 50 minutes of the lopsided trial against Tonga, providing encouragement to the NSW Rugby Union board members among the small crowd last night that they had made the right move in luring him from the high veldt.
Replacing Luke Burgess was always going to be tricky, especially after he had shown the benefits of relaxing and doing exactly what he wanted to do in his final season with the Waratahs, prompting several spectacular performances. Burgess’s last year was his best – and a strong reason why the Waratahs made the finals.
But they appear to have overcome the problem of Burgess heading to France, as Pretorius is exactly what they want. As he showed against Tonga, he is arrogant, pushy, smart, mixes up his options, takes on everyone and has a beautiful pass. Like all good halfbacks, he is authoritative and poised.
He instigated the first Waratahs try after just a few minutes when he hassled a number of Tongan forwards near their own line, putting enough pressure on them to effect a mistake, and then pounced on the lost ball. Until replaced midway through the game, Pretorius was a continual pest, and it worked to ensure the Waratahs dominated all over the park.
It is premature to say Pretorius will be the Waratahs’ saviour, because the opposition was very loose and for most of the game were just marginally above a spirited rabble. The only time Tonga were organised against the Waratahs was during their pre-match war cry, which was close to their most entertaining moment of the night.
And Pretorius enjoyed complete freedom in the midfield, as his opponent Mahe Fangupo went missing at times. Pretorius knows it will be different in a week’s time when he tussles with the maestro – Will Genia, who won’t allow him any leeway.
It’s a pity the trial was played in front of only a few thousand, due to the bewildering decision to stage it on the same night as the Australia-Sri Lanka cricket day-nighter next door at the SCG.
Apparently it all had to do with the Waratahs wanting an extra day to prepare for next Saturday night’s opening round match against the Queensland Reds, but it effectively stunted the attendance figure – as only a crazed rugby fan would have been insane enough to brave the traffic snarl around Moore Park.
As confusing for the crowd was that most didn’t realise it was a 100-minute trial instead of the usual 80, and many headed for the exits at three-quarter time.
Those who weren’t bamboozled by all this toing and froing saw some reasonable football and would have been enthused to see the Waratahs have someone at the scrumbase who knows exactly what to do.
As encouraging was their often-injured centre Rob Horne running straight and hard – providing hope that if he can string some games together, we will see why coaches rave about him. He will play in the No.13 jersey, but NSW would be wise to put him at inside-centre, where he could be even more effective.