Just a week after the Waratahs 2015 Super Rugby campaign ended against the Highlanders, a select group of contracted players returned to training to begin ‘pre-pre-season’ at Moore Park.

A five month program aimed at fast tracking the development of players like Jed Holloway, Jack Dempsey, Jim Stewart and Andrew Kellaway ahead of the 2016 Super Rugby season.

With upwards of 15 players from this year’s squad moving on, the success of the program could be vital for the Waratahs title hopes in the years to come.

“We are moving into a period where we need to focus on the development of the younger players, so from June through to November, it’s a critical time for us to try and get those young guys ready for the start of the official pre-season,” newly appointed head coach Darryl Gibson told Rugby News.

“The guys that we have training currently are the guys we are looking to fill those positions in the coming year.”

Despite the mass exodus, Gibson was hesitant to label 2016 a ‘rebuilding year’ and is confident his young brigade will be ready to make an impact next season.

“Besides two new guys (Angus Ta-avao, Brad Wilkin), they have all been involved in the Waratahs system for a number of years.

“Although on paper it looks like a new squad, really it’s just natural progression and in my mind that’s how it should work.”

Gibson thinks 22-year-old Jed Holloway and 21-year-old Jack Dempsey will be ready to fill the void left by Wycliff Palu and potentially Stephen Hoiles in the Waratahs back-row, whilst Andrew Kellaway is capable of playing his way into the star studded Tahs backline.

“He’s only just turned 20, he still very young,” Gibson said of Kellaway, who broke the all time try-scoring record at the U20’s World Cup last year.

“I see him as the kind of guy you can build a franchise around, he’s going to potentially be at the Waratahs for a very long time and next year he’ll get an opportunity to stake his claim.

“Along with Jim Stewart, Harry Jones, Henry Clunies-Ross, there is a nice cohort of young players coming through. If we can keep those players together, in the future, we’ll be quite well off,” he added.

With Brendan McKibbin departing, Gibson said he is on the lookout for a halfback to add to the squad and has narrowed his choice down to two players.

“Young Jake Gordon at University is one guy we’ve got our eye on and also a guy that has been with us for a while now, Matt Lucas, he’s certainly been performing well.

“Between those guys we are hopeful one can join the Waratahs.”

Gibson said the 2016 National Rugby Championship was vital for the young player’s development and dismissed suggestions the competition could lead to player burnout.

“I don’t believe our players in Australia play enough. Burnout is a concern, but I think more rugby is good, particularly for the young guys. Playing 30 games a year is pretty standard these days.”

Whilst the former Kiwi international admits it will be difficult to retain all his young stars in the years to come, he’s focussed on providing the best pathway possible to higher honours.

“There are going to be opportunities in other franchises, that’s part of the game. They’ve got to make decisions that are best for them. What we can do at the Waratahs is offer them the best opportunities around development and potentially access into the main squad.”

For link to article please click here.