Waratahs home crowds have slumped alarmingly in the past two seasons. From Super Rugby title holders three seasons ago, the Waratahs now are mere also rans, playing without purpose or a recognisable game plan.
Not surprisingly reports have emerged that Daryl Gibson has lost the support of his key players, followed by counter-claims that everyone is right behind the Waratahs coach.
Despite the denials and counter-denials, what cannot be disputed is that the Waratahs have lost their way under Gibson -- and his head coaching position is not safe after two underwhelming seasons.
In 2017, there have been few encouraging moments for the Waratahs, and the past few days have been particularly telling; the team wasted their final home ground appearance with an inept effort against the Jaguares, and that was followed by damning crowd and television figures hitting the press.
Australian Super Rugby crowd and television viewing figures revealed in The Australian newspaper this week make brutal reading.
As further proof that Australian rugby is not providing the quality of football to lure viewers, the gross season television audience on Fox Sports has dropped from 2.714 million in 2016 to 1.876 million this year. The average Australian pay-TV audience has collapsed from 70,000 last year to now 54,000.
Australian crowd attendances have fallen from 643,790 in 2015 (average 15,702) to 536,807 last year (average 13,764) to 399,066 for 2017 (average 11,402).
The Waratahs crowd slump has been substantial. Two years ago, the Waratahs had an average 22,463 spectators at their home games; now it is 14,500, and last Saturday night they lured only 10,992 for the Jaguares fixture. Many of those who attended will be questioning whether they return in 2018, especially as the Waratahs, who had to make a late personnel change after their Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu failed to turn up to training, lack spirit and soul.
The Waratahs hierarchy say constantly that they depend on their home crowds for their financial well-being, so they look for scapegoats because important budgets cannot be met when the figures drop.
The obvious target is the head coach. Numerous past Waratahs Super Rugby coaches know how the combination of turnstiles no longer spinning and player power led to their demise. And previous Waratahs coaches with considerably better success rates than Gibson were let go early.
Of the nine Waratahs Super Rugby coaches, Gibson sits eighth on the win-loss ratio list. On top is Chris Hickey with a 63.6 per cent success rate, followed by Michael Cheika (63.3 percent), Ewen McKenzie (56.1 percent), Bob Dwyer (55.9 percent), Ian Kennedy (45.5 percent), Chris Hawkins (45.5 percent), Matt Williams (42.4 percent), Gibson (41.3 percent) and Michael Foley (25 percent). Gibson's success rate will drop to 40 percent if the Waratahs lose to the Force this weekend.
In Gibson's defence, it was always going to be difficult taking over from Cheika.
Cheika was the detonator. He succeeded in shaking up the Waratahs, ridding the place of its 'gentlemen's club' mentality, where the senior players basically decided the agenda and the coach was often subservient to their needs.
Cheika wanted none of that. He was the boss, and he ran everything. The players did what he said, and there were no ifs or buts. He dragged them out of the banana lounges and made them fit. Quite a number didn't like it as they were used to making short-cuts. A 2014 Super Rugby title was the result of Cheika's harsh but necessary measures.
During that period, Gibson as Cheika's assistant developed a healthy rapport with the NSW players. Maybe there was a bit of good cop-bad cop going on.
Since Cheika's departure, the Waratahs have fallen back into their old habits. This is the hangover period. They look unfit, often take the easy option, lack belief, and continue to make crazy statements. One of the most hilarious came after their underwhelming South African road tour when senior players revealed that while away they had at least trained really, really well.
From the Waratahs camp, we hear constantly that Gibson is a 'terrific guy' and a 'lovely bloke.' Marvellous to hear, but terrific guys/lovely blokes who become great, successful coaches are in the minority. Sorry to say but the mongrel dogs who are feared by their players are usually the members of the clipboard brigade who make it at the highest level.
Funds aren't overflowing at Waratahland so it would be a radical step to axe Gibson early. Maybe their recent appointment of Australian Under-20s coach Simon Cron as assistant coach next season could see a clever and less costly re-balance in the team's managerial team.
Cron, who last year took Northern Suburbs to their first Shute Shield premiership since 1975, is highly rated. The grooming has clearly begun, and it's interesting to recall the words of NSW Rugby Union chief executive Andrew Hore in an interview with ESPN six months ago.
"Australian rugby has a massive problem in coaching development," Hore told ESPN. "If you lose Cheik where do you go next? We need to make sure that we invest more in coaching, from grassroots right through. Your coach is your CEO of the player. The better the coaches we produce, the better the players we produce. It's a key area where Australian rugby falls behind large parts of the world."
Now the Waratahs have also fallen "behind large parts of the world", the next few months will be interesting times out at Moore Park. There should be casualties.