Waratahs routed once again in final reminder for Rugby Australia

The curtain came down on the Waratahs' season on Saturday night and while Sydney had almost frozen over amid a 37-year cold snap two days earlier, there were few signs that hell would follow suit and result in a drought-breaking NSW win for 2021.

Their 0-13 season was signed off with a 40-7 defeat by the Chiefs, ensuring the collective Australian return from Super Rugby Trans-Tasman was a miserly two from 25, with only the Reds and Brumbies managing to register a win over the past five weeks - and even then they were hardly convincing.

Just what Rugby Australia's next move is in terms of the Super Rugby competition structure for next season and beyond will be determined over the coming weeks. It has not been an easy decision to make.

Does the feel good factor of having two Australian winners, week after week, over two rounds through Super Rugby AU, usurp the value of playing against New Zealand opposition, and the physicality and intensity that goes with it, over two rounds rather than one?

They are questions RA administrators have been pondering since the completion of Super Rugby AU, but the highs of that Reds-Brumbies thriller, played before 42,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium, now seem little more than a distant memory.

As it was, a decent crowd found its way to Brookvale Oval on Sydney's Northern Beaches to watch the Chiefs easily account for the Waratahs on Saturday night, winger Sean Wainui running in a Super Rugby record five tries as the visitors continued NSW's tough season on defence in the wider channels.

There was nothing for the Chiefs to play for, their campaign ruined by Damian McKenzie's red card against the Reds in Townsville despite the Kiwis producing a comeback to remember, yet still they turned up and delivered a committed performance that has been the hallmark of their resurgence under Clayton McMillan in 2021.

"Yeah, happy, obviously really only pride to play for with results today and also us losing against the Reds," McMillan said. "So we wanted to finish with a bit of a statement performance and cap off what has been a pretty positive year for us; so pleasing."

Again on Saturday night, the Chiefs were forced to overcome some indiscipline, with Tupou Vaa'i and Lachlan Boshier yellow-carded, yet the visitors were never seriously troubled. The Waratahs did trail by only 14-7 at halftime, but Wainui's third five-pointer only six minutes after the resumption put paid to any remote chance that NSW would end their season on a high.

Already ravaged by injury the Waratahs horrors continued pre-match when prop Te Tera Faulkner withdrew after picking up a back injury in the warm-up, before one of their few players of genuine quality, Izaia Perese, dislocated his shoulder just 13 minutes in, the outside centre having already once broken the Chiefs' line, shedding multiple defenders along the way.

Waratahs coach Chris Whitaker later confirmed Perese had been taken to hospital, the club's former scrum-half again lamenting what had been horror year on the injury front.

"It was just a bit of a continuation of the year," Whitaker explained. "Obviously we lose Te Tera Faulkner in the warm-up, so you make adjustments to the starting front-row. And then poor Izzy gets injured, so that shuffles our backline around and we finished up with our two starting wingers in the centres and our halfback on the wing.

"So it was hard to get any continuity in the first half, our set-piece wasn't great, we were under a bit of pressure there. But as I said every game we had guys out of position, we had two guys on the field who only trained with us [for the first time] this week.

"But they just kept trying, just kept persisting ... a tough one but really proud of the boys."

So good had Perese's form been of late that he was not only expected to make Dave Rennie's Wallabies squad that will be announced on Sunday, but potentially even push for a starting position and Test debut in the first Test against France on July 7.

He will have to wait a little longer for a gold jersey, though hopefully not until next year.

With no Australian teams even getting close to the Trans-Tasman final - which will be contested by the Blues and Highlanders at Eden Park next Saturday night - Rennie will have a few extra days' preparation up his sleeve, though that hasn't always been an advantage for Wallabies teams of the past either.

But it will give the Wallabies coaching cohort time to work on the Australian breakdown, which has been badly exposed on the cleanout throughout Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. The New Zealand franchises have each had a field day either winning turnovers at the ruck, or earning a penalty reward from the referees.

That was again the case at Brookvale Oval as Boshier and his fellow Chiefs picked off the NSW breakdown with ease, or indeed forced referee Jordan Way to raise his arm in their favour.

"I think they still contest the breakdown pretty well," McMillan replied when asked whether Australian sides had been well off the pace at the breakdown through the Trans-Tasman series.

"We're not getting everything our own way. I just think probably in the New Zealand comp the margins are really fine, and so you've got to carry hard, you've got to clean hard and you've got to win races in and around that breakdown. And if you're just a fraction slow then you turn the ball over and you get punished for it.

"And I think we've benefited from bringing that level of intensity and speed around our breakdowns, but I've seen the Aussie teams improve over the last three or four weeks. So I think that all bodes for hopefully a great [fully] combined competition next year."

Perhaps the frustration of losing so much ball at the breakdown finally told on volatile Waratahs flanker Lachie Swinton who was red-carded for a dangerous cleanout on Luke Jacobson inside the final 10 minutes. The act is likely to cost Swinton some time against France if he does again make Rennie's squad, perhaps the entire series, though there is also the quirk in rugby's system that allows a suspension to be served across club games, too.

But a disastrous season is at last an end for the Waratahs and the focus turns to the search for a new head coach. Whitaker's fellow interim coach Jason Gilmore is keen on the job, though there has been little improvement since he and Chris Whitaker have been steering the ship following the departure of Rob Penney.

Former Gordon and Warringah coach Darren Coleman, who is currently the boss of Major League Rugby outfit LA Giltinis, remains the favoured tip, though there is the small matter of his American contract extending beyond this season.

NSW have little time to waste as the recruitment hole Penney found himself when first joining the club could very well reappear if a decision is not made in the near future. Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper will return in 2022, but there has been very little player movement, at least coming in, otherwise at this stage.

Just what Super Rugby competition structure the coach will be working towards is of equal importance as all Australian coaches need to set about a thorough review of where they fell short this season.

Many of the issues behind the Aussie teams' struggles will be obvious. The solutions? Perhaps not so easily available.

And that may just push a fully united Trans-Tasman competition off the agenda, at least for another year. Though that won't be a decision welcomed across the ditch.