The Brumbies are promising no let-up after seizing Super Rugby title favouritism as their chief conference rivals brace for another early test of their own championship credentials.
The Brumbies, including champion flanker David Pocock and his broken nose, left for a two-game stint in South Africa vowing to keep their foot on the pedal after extending their unbeaten start to 2016 with a 31-14 dispatch of the Western Force in Perth.
After collecting 15 tries from their blistering three-from-three start, the Brumbies have opened up an eight-point break over the NSW Waratahs, who host the defending champion Highlanders in Sydney on Friday night.
While the Waratahs are freshened by the bye, the Brumbies are carrying several battered troops, including Pocock, who was left bloodied and dazed following a heavy tackle from Force hooker Heath Tessmann early in the second half at nib Stadium.
But coach Stephen Larkham said the Wallabies superstar would soldier on and is challenging his competition frontrunners to retain the intensity against the Stormers in Cape Town next Sunday morning AEDT.
Victory at Newlands would give the Brumbies four successive wins to launch a campaign for the first time since 2013, the last year they reached the final.
“We’ve certainly had a good start to the competition, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to play well in your next game,” Larkham said.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve lost some really tight games, and that’s hurt us in the finals period.
“The challenge for us is to keep the mindset on the next game.”
After their last-start 32-15 loss to the Brumbies, the Waratahs have little choice but to step up against the Highlanders if they wish to stay in touch with Australia’s rampant conference leaders.
The Highlanders ended the Waratahs’ title defence in the semi-finals at Allianz Stadium last year and showed ominous form in their dazzling 34-15 win over the Lions in Dunedin on Saturday night.
Three long-range tries were the highlight and should have placed the Waratahs’ defence on notice.
“We won’t know how we’re faring until we play the Highlanders, but you couldn’t really ask for a better opponent than the champions from last year,” said Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan.
The Waratahs are sweating on goalkicking five-eighth Bernard Foley making his first appearance of the season, with coach Daryl Gibson rating the Wallabies star a 50-50 chance of returning from a shoulder injury.
The Melbourne Rebels leapfrogged the Waratahs – who have a game in hand – with a 25-23 win over the embattled Queensland Reds to go second in the Australian conference.
The Rebels travel to Tokyo to tackle the Sunwolves on Saturday at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
The tournament newcomers will be rueing one that got away after blowing a 15-point halftime advantage in a gut-wrenching 32-31 loss to the Cheetahs in Singapore.
The Force play the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday night, while the Reds – still searching for their first win of the season – host the Blues in Brisbane on Saturday night.