NSW coach Michael Cheika is backing his new and improved Waratahs to kick off where they left off a month ago and chalk up a club-record-equalling fifth straight Super Rugby win on Saturday night.
Dismissing concerns the three-week break for the Wallabies’ Test series against France may stall his side’s momentum, Cheika is confident the Waratahs will put the injury-hit Brumbies to the sword in the Australian conference blockbuster at ANZ Stadium.
After riding a two-month win-loss rollercoaster, the Waratahs have reeled off four consecutive victories for the first time since reaching the 2008 final to be in pole position to finish top of the table after the home-and-away campaign.
The second-placed Tahs are two points adrift of overall leaders the Sharks, but with a game in hand on the South Africans.
Three points ahead of the Brumbies, NSW also have a game in hand on their ACT-based arch rivals and can all but clinch Australian conference honours this weekend.
With three rounds remaining before the playoffs, the Waratahs’ destiny is in their own hands and Cheika doesn’t believe the mid-tournament interval will have slowed his team after impressive wins over the Hurricanes, Lions, Rebels and defending champion Chiefs.
“I don’t see how the momentum from the Rebels game could have helped us against the Chiefs because they are two totally different matches and this game is another totally different one again,” he said.
“I think the team has matured a lot this year in understanding what’s required to achieve our objectives.
“They know there are sacrifices to be made and concentration required at all times, but that should be the enjoyable part of being a top pro, being able to deliver on that.”
Cheika admitted it was impossible for the dozen Waratahs involved in the Wallabies’ 3-0 whitewash of Les Bleus not to have taken a little time to savour last Saturday’s big third Test win.
“But I trust my guys to understand what’s at stake,” he said.
“They don’t have to flick a switch the next day and say, `Right, I’ve forgot all about that. This is all that counts.’
“The key is to make sure they understand where the moments are in the game that they need to take advantage of, how can they recognise the opportunities.”
Veteran NSW back-rower Stephen Hoiles, a former Brumbies captain, said Cheika had every right not to worry about the Waratahs not being in the right frame of mind for Saturday’s derby.
“We are treating this as if it is a big game with that finals mentality,” Hoiles said.
With a bye next week – and no competition points on offer – the fourth-placed Brumbies must beat the Waratahs to maintain a spot in the top six and their finals fate.