The NSW Waratahs will carry a siege mentality across the Tasman in pursuit of an against-the-odds triumph over Super Rugby’s table-topping Crusaders on Friday night.
As if losing backline linchpin Kurtley Beale for the rest of the season wasn’t rough enough, the Waratahs must smash a 12-year, six-match losing streak against the seven-times champions in Christchurch.
The Tahs surged to top of the Australian conference with a game in hand over the Brumbies with their bittersweet 31-8 bonus-point victory over the Bulls on Saturday night.
But their fourth straight win came at a huge cost, with Beale set to miss the rest of the 2016 campaign with a knee injury as the Waratahs brace for a torrid run to the finals, including four of their last five matches against New Zealand opposition.
Kiwi outfits are dominating the competition, winning 16 of 18 matches on home soil this year, including all seven against Australian sides.
“We’ve always known we’ve got a tough run. We know that we’ve got the New Zealand sides coming up – in a big lot,” said Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson.
“But we’ve dug ourselves out of a big hole, we’ve got on a really nice momentum and one thing I love about this team is they love a challenge.
“Most people would write us off going to Christchurch so it’s a good place to be.”
The Brumbies’ round-one defeat of the Chiefs is the only win by an Australian side over New Zealanders in 15 attempts this season, but former All Black and Crusader Gibson says the Waratahs are undaunted.
“We’ve enjoyed playing New Zealand sides. We enjoyed the style of play and the risk associated with the games,” he said.
“It’s coming down to game planning, making sure we’re smart about how we play and adapting to the circumstances,
“But certainly at the moment they’re the teams to beat. They’re doing well in the competition.
“But for us we won’t shy away from that challenge.”
Despite their poor record in Christchurch, the Waratahs have won their past two encounters with the Crusaders, including the 2014 final in Sydney.
Another victory this week would vault the Tahs at least five points clear of the Brumbies – who have a bye – and in pole position for the Australian conference’s guaranteed finals berth ahead of clashes with the Chiefs, Sunwolves, Hurricanes and Blues.
The Brumbies dealt Melbourne’s playoff hopes a huge blow with a 30-22 away win over the Rebels and will be sweating on the Crusaders bouncing back from a 34-26 loss to the reigning champion Highlanders and knocking over the Waratahs.
After the bye, the Brumbies enjoy a much smoother run home than their conference rivals against the lowly Sunwolves, Reds, Blues and Western Force.