After watching the NSW Waratahs virtually concede defeat to the Crusaders in their Super Rugby trial on Valentine's Day, Daryl Gibson never once wondered what might have been.
The former All Blacks midfielder and Canterbury stalwart had just witnessed his Australian side - a team renowned for underachievement - lose 16-14 because they were under orders not to take penalty goals.
That benevolence was a foreign concept for the 37-year-old during his illustrious playing career in Christchurch - and times clearly have not changed as Dan Carter and Tom Taylor slotted three penalties between them to essentially retain the Rotomahana Cup at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Gibson, who started work as a member of the Waratahs revamped coaching set-up in January, shrugged off the loss by pointing to the contest as an example of NSW's new attacking doctrine.
"I'm impressed with the environment we're trying to create at the Waratahs. A lot of that attitude came out [against the Crusaders]," Gibson said.
Slammed by a dwindling fan base as they racked up their current eight-match losing streak in 2012 - punting the ball away was a major gripe - the Waratahs are striving to remodel themselves under new head coach Michael Cheika, experienced assistant Alan Gaffney and the 19-test All Black.
Progress was debatable against an error-prone and cynical Crusaders outfit though Gibson was still encouraged.
"We're trying to make some significant change here. We're really got to unshackle a lot of the guys by saying 'Hey, we want you to play this way, you're allowed to play this way'. Every now and then you'll make mistakes and we accept that."
As an assistant coach of the Crusaders last season, Gibson was well aware of the Waratahs conservative game plan, a strategy where Michael Foley's playmakers would invariably hoof possession away in search of field position.
"We're a team that likes to keep the ball in hand," he said, yet not at all costs.
"The criticism of last year's team was the quality of the kicking, we've worked on that."
Former Wallabies and Waratahs fullback Matt Burke joined the staff in an advisory role a fortnight ago to work on technique and Gibson welcomed his input.
The defensive work was also effective against the Crusaders, who had to settle for a solitary try.
It was the first time Gibson had coached against a team he represented 77 times before heading to the UK and then returning to serve as Todd Blackadder's assistant between 2009 and last season.
"It was interesting coming up against a lot of the tactics and strategy I knew," said Gibson, who circled May 31 on the calendar - the Waratahs' round 16 trip to Christchurch.
He was reluctant to dwell on his exit from the competition's most successful franchise - albeit one that hasn't won a title since 2008.
It is the longest timeframe the Crusaders have gone without a championship, and Gibson was a casualty of that failure when Blackadder downgraded his job as attack coach to a defensive role.
Unhappy and looking elsewhere, Gibson soon caught the attention of Cheika, a Heineken Cup-winner at Leinster, and made the move to Sydney in December.
"I have no regrets about my decision and in a strange way I'm pleased I've ended up here. I've been really impressed by Michael," he said, refusing to look back in anger.
"I'm learning a great deal from him. The team has found the right coach at the right time."
Gibson still referred to the Crusaders as "we" during his post-match discussion, insisted his relationship with Blackadder was amicable and would obviously follow their campaign closely.
He put a positive slant on Richie McCaw's sabbatical, reckoning the squad's leadership group would mature in his absence but Gibson would not predict an overdue eighth title.
"It's proven be a tough competition to win. You have to be one or two in the (conference) format to win it.
"The margin between winning and losing is very slim. No one would have predicted the Chiefs would have won last year."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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