Coach Michael Cheika insists the NSW Waratahs will not veer from running rugby, no matter what the conditions, in what promises to be a brutal Super Rugby semi-final against the Brumbies on Saturday.
Barring bad weather, the Waratahs’ finals record crowd of 35,462 is almost certain to be eclipsed at Allianz Stadium, as 38,000 tickets had been sold by Thursday evening.
While some rain was forecast for Sydney on Saturday, Cheika stressed the Waratahs had focused on persevering with ball-in-hand style that had highlighted their seven-match winning streak.
“I think at this stage of the season, we’ll just have to go; we’ll just have to do it anyway,” Cheika said.
“I don’t imagine we’re going to start kicking now.
“We may have to maybe get a bit closer and shorten up our passes, but we can still play in the rain.”
Brumbies director of rugby Laurie Fisher acknowledged the visitors would need tries rather than penalties to spring an upset.
“We’re not going out there to try and win 6-3 – it’s not going to happen,” Fisher said.
Cheika said NSW had a few new things they could try to stymie the Brumbies’ attempts to shut them down and slow their ball and he highlighted an area for improvement.
“The Brumbies are a a very good physical team and I think, when we played them in Sydney last time, we weren’t as physical as we needed to be in the contest part of the game,” Cheika said.
Cheika’s call for more physicality came as no surprise to Fisher.
“Every time I hear Michael Cheika talk, every halftime speech he’s talking about physicality,” Fisher said.
“That says to me physicality is going to be king.”
While winger Alofa Alofa is the only starter in the NSW team not to have played a Test, several Waratahs have never played a Super Rugby finals game.
“Finals footy I haven’t been part of yet. It’s a new challenge for as lot of us,” Waratahs flanker and captain Michael Hooper said.
Conversely, the Brumbies have plenty of knockout experience after reaching last year’s final and playing winner-takes-all matches over the past two weeks.
“We understand the feeling that you have in a game knowing that the season could potentially be gone at the the 80-minute mark,” Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said.
“It’s totally different to the regular-season games – you can’t compare it. It’s almost like playing two seasons.
“Obviously, the big advantage for the Waratahs is they’ve had a week off to refresh and, often at this time of year, that can be really important.”
He said the match would be won and lost through decision making under pressure.
“There’s going to be a lot of moments where you’re going to feel like the season is gone or is hanging in the balance and you’ve got to have a cool head in those situations,” Mowen said.