They bulldozed one Kiwi Super Rugby wall last week but the NSW Waratahs aren’t satisfied as they target an even stiffer frontier against the Chiefs.
The Australian conference leaders have barely paused to celebrate the end of New Zealand’s stranglehold in trans-Tasman matches.
Coach Daryl Gibson’s wasn’t getting carried away with the team’s hex-busting 41-12 thrashing of the Highlanders in Sydney, ending 40 straight losses for Australian teams against Kiwi foes.
Saturday’s match provides an immediate chance to snap another gloomy record.
It’s more than three years since an Australian team won on New Zealand soil.
Michael Cheika’s Waratahs of 2015 toppled the Hurricanes in Wellington but it’s been one-way traffic since.
Gibson is pinning his hopes on a gradual improvement this month continuing if they are to win in Hamilton for just the second time in 18 years.
A Waratahs’ low point was their 29-0 home embarrassment against the Lions in round 10.
Since then, narrow losses to the Blues and Crusaders were followed by last weekend’s breakthrough.
“Certainly it was a performance that was on par with where we were projecting,” Gibson said.
“That was why the outcome on Saturday was pleasing, because it continued that trajectory that we were on.”
Gibson’s pragmatism continued when assessing the strength of the Chiefs.
He says their raw physicality and ability to pounce on turnover ball through the likes of five-eighth Damien McKenzie makes them potent.
Most impressive, however, was an obvious togetherness that has kept the two-time champion Kiwi outfit in contention despite a horrendous injury run.
“They’ve coped with that all year. They’ve had 20-odd injuries and they seem to be a remarkably resilient team.”
Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes was nevertheless relieved to welcome back four All Blacks who missed last week’s loss to the Sharks in Durban while on training camp duty with the national team.
Anton Lienert-Brown, McKenzie, Brodie Retallick and Nathan Harris would inevitably lift standards, he said.
“When the heat comes on, you need people who are used to that sort of pace of the game, and the intensity.
“It helps get people pointed in the right direction.”
Barnes said a Waratahs team featuring one starting change – the return of Wallabies halfback Nick Phipps – would be buoyed by their Highlanders performance.
They have chosen not to dwell on the brilliant form of Waratahs fullback Israel Folau.
“He’s obviously an amazing athlete and an amazing footballer,” Barnes said.
“You have to treat that with respect but we haven’t done anything special about defending him.”
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