Daryl Gibson another victim of Waratahs' season from hell

Daryl Gibson only managed one playoffs appearance in four years as Waratahs coach Dianne Manson/Getty Images

The Waratahs' season from hell was supposed to have come to an end in Dunedin last Friday, only for a horror 2019 to claim one more victim in coach Daryl Gibson.

Gibson on Friday afternoon announced he would be stepping down from the post he has held since 2016, just four months after he had agreed to a one-year contract extension.

That extension was the catalyst for heir apparent Simon Cron to take up a deal alongside outgoing All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in Japan, leaving the Waratahs without any succession plan to take over the role Gibson has now departed.

"I think during the year I had a change of heart around exactly where the team is and where the list is at," Gibson said of the about-face on his contract extension. "The cycle of players now coming through is now [moving on]."

Gibson had taken the Waratahs to within one game of last year's final but won just six matches this season; the highlight being a 22-10 triumph over two-time defending champions the Crusaders in Sydney.

But NSW were immediately beaten by the lowly Sunwolves a week later, before their season took an extraordinary turn with the onset of the Israel Folau saga.

The Waratahs won just three further games as Folau was stood down indefinitely, and then sacked - a process which has now seen the former star fullback set up a crowdfunding page to help cover his "legal costs."

The Waratahs must now find Gibson's replacement ahead of next season. The incoming coach will face a huge challenge with a squad that has already waved goodbye to club stalwarts Sekope Kepu and Nick Phipps, winger Curtis Rona and will, in all likelihood, also be without star playmakers Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley.

Other senior players also remained unsigned.

"During discussions around our list, it became really apparent that we are entering a new cycle in NSW Rugby," Gibson said. "We've got this wonderful, young, vibrant talent coming through our system; we've got some absolute gold nuggets that are going to filter through our system in next three to four years...it's time for a new coach to take them on that journey.

"At the moment, I'm a one-year prospect - six months - and really I believe that a coach needs to own that for the next three to four years and I'd be standing in the way of that."

Gibson had succeeded Super Rugby-winning coach Michael Cheika after he moved onto the Wallabies' job fulltime after the 2015 season. Gibson recorded 10th and 12th-placed finishes in the following two years, before reaching the semifinals after topping the Australian conference in 2018.

But given the wealth of talent at his disposal, Gibson had underperformed, making the decision to re-sign him just a few days out from the start of this season reasonably confusing.

The NSW Rugby Union and chief executive Andrew Hore of course had no reason to suspect what was to later transpire with Folau, but surely could have waited until midseason when the Waratahs' on-field fortunes were showing signs of continued improvement from 2018 or were headed in the opposite direction.

Australia Under 20s coach Jason Gilmore could loom as a potential successor for Gibson as his Junior Wallabies -- whom Gibson noted 11 of which were Waratahs players -- prepare to contest the final of the World Championship early Sunday morning Australian time. Waratahs assistants Steve Tandy and Chris Whitaker could also be options, but they remain remain reasonably green in terms of top-level experience.

A list of other potential local replacements appears to be short in number however, leaving the Waratahs looking overseas to fill a role they had originally earmarked Cron for.

"I think at the end of the day it's just like a player, sometimes you keep an experienced campaigner there and let the younger person come through," Hore said of the machinations that saw Cron head for Japan.

"We felt that we were trying to do our best for the organisation and for the individuals that were concerned at that time, and out of that comes the situation that we're in today; that happens. It's not the first or last time a sporting organisation has [erred]; you've got to flip it over and look at what's still a wonderful opportunity because we have got systems and structures in place that are developing talent."

Whatever the case, Gibson's departure has put the icing on an unpalatable cake that was supposed to be a good-news Waratahs' season when they would take rugby back to the people of NSW.

Sure, the results don't always fall where you'd like them to.

But from five home defeats -- four of which came on what were supposed to be historic occasions at Newcastle and the shiny new Bankwest Stadium -- to the Folau saga, turf issues at the SCG, Tolu Latu's drink-driving charge and, ultimately, a 6-10 season, this truly was a season from hell for the Waratahs.

Fortunately, they can at least raise a toast to their Super W title-winning women's team at next month's NSW Rugby Awards night. There's not much to celebrate otherwise.