Melbourne will be given the best gauge yet of their Super Rugby title aspirations when they host the defending champion Highlanders on Saturday night, according to flanker Scott Fuglistaller.
The former co-captain said his team had done well to secure three wins from four game to open the season, particularly on the back of a gruelling travel schedule in which they’ve clocked up over 30,000km between Perth, Pretoria, Melbourne and Tokyo.
They sit at the top of the Australian conference on points with the Brumbies, but Fuglistaller said they had to keep their feet on the ground given the quality of the teams they’ve faced.
Their three wins have come against teams – Western Force, Reds and newcomers the Sunwolves – at the bottom of their conferences.
He said coach Tony McGahan was quick to remind them that they hadn’t proven anything yet and the Highlanders loomed as a major test at AAMI Park.
“This is a team that’s top of the mountain and if we want to have the goals that we have, these are the teams that we need to improve against,” Fuglistaller said.
“This will be a true gauge of where this team is at.
“They are defending champions, semi-finalists the year before and very much a form team.”
The 28-year-old made his first appearance of the season in their 35-9 win over the Tokyo-based Sunwolves and said while he was frustrated by the delayed start due to a hip injury, he was happy he could offer his weary teammates an injection of energy off the bench.
The Kiwi-born No.7 started his Super Rugby career with the Highlanders in Dunedin under their coach Jamie Joseph.
Rebels centre Tamati Ellison, backrower Adam Thomson and lock Culum Retallick also have ties to the club.
The Highlanders held off the fast-finishing Waratahs 30-26 last round after leading 30-0.
Led by All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith and fullback Ben Smith, Fuglistaller said the Highlanders looked an even better team than that which won the title last year.
“To be honest they’re probably playing better than last year as they’ve started off really well,” he said.
“I’m sure they will be disappointed about their second half against the Waratahs so I’m sure they will be firing when they get here.”