Former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock is reluctantly tipping the NSW Waratahs to showcase their title credentials and make a statement in Saturday’s Super Rugby crunch match with the Melbourne Rebels.
Melbourne’s foundation captain and current board member, Mortlock is very much in the Rebels’ corner, but he fears the Waratahs are viewing the Anzac Day showdown as an opportunity to sound a warning to their championship rivals.
“They look like they’re starting to hit their straps at the right time of the year,” Mortlock said at an Anzac Gallipoli centenary luncheon at the Rugby Club.
“It’s more than halfway through the season now. This is where the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders.
“Yes, the Rebels represent a bit of a threat as a team on the up. But the Waratahs will be looking at this match to stamp their authority and continue building towards the back end of the season.
“That’s important going into the business end of the season and the semi-finals.”
Make no mistake, despite predicting a Waratahs victory after their impressive bounce-back bonus-point triumph over the table-topping Hurricanes, Mortlock is backing the Rebels to take the fight to the titleholders.
“I don’t want to lay down an outlandish comment and say the Rebels are going to go up to Sydney and absolutely give them a lesson,” he said.
“That’s not what it’s about. Basically for the Rebels, it’s a really good yardstick and that’s how they’ll approach it.
“I’ve got no doubt that this Rebels outfit headed by Tony McGahan and this coaching staff are really aware of how they’re trying to play.
“Their intensity and effort and understanding of key facets of the game is fantastic. The breakdown intensity and enthusiasm is first rate.
“The set piece is certainly on the improve and their ability to retain the ball on the back of that is great.”
“But I’ve got no doubt that their feet are firmly planted on the ground. They know the challenge is in front of them, particularly with the Tahs back in some strong form.
“I’d love to see the Rebels knock off the Waratahs but the reality is the Waratahs are a fantastic team.
“They’re the incumbent champions and they responded last week with a great match against the Hurricanes.
“So the Rebels have got their work cut out.”