The mind games have begun ahead of the Super Rugby finals with NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika declaring the pressure is on the competition’s runaway leaders, the Hurricanes.
Like the Waratahs last year, the Hurricanes have finished the regular season leading the overall standings and sit in pole position to win a maiden title.
The Waratahs, who are attempting to become the first Australian franchise to win back-to-back titles, secured second place behind the Wellington-based franchise and booked a week off and a home semi-final with their 31-5 win on Saturday night over Queensland.
Cheika’s side will host the highest-ranked winner from the two qualifying matches next weekend.
The fourth-ranked Highlanders host the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday afternoon, while the sixth-ranked Brumbies travel to Cape Town to face the third-ranked Stormers on Sunday (AEST).
The Hurricanes will face the other winner from the qualifiers in week two of the finals.
“It’s there for the Hurricanes – they finished first,” Cheika said.
While his side will appreciate not having to play again next weekend after a tough season, which included a recent two-game tour of South Africa, Cheika has warned his side they aren’t about to get a holiday.
“We’re not going to have a week off or anything. We’re going to pick the guys who need some work and pick the guys who might need something different and stay focused on footy,” Cheika said.
“It’s going to be about staying very focused on each day at a time and not think about anything else except for how we are going to approach that first match in a couple of weeks’ time.”
The Waratahs scored four second-half tries to run over the top of the Reds after the defending champions led 3-0 at halftime.
The only injury concern for the Waratahs is No.12 Kurtley Beale, ruled out of the Reds game with a strained quadriceps muscle suffered at training.
“He did it having a kick at goal, so it’s a little strain. Could we have pushed? I don’t know … we chose not to,” he said.
“He’ll work hard to get himself right for the next match.”
Cheika said it had been a tougher season for the Tahs with the target on their head that went with being champions and was thrilled to win the local conference.
“It was always going to be more difficult for us this year and we probably had to earn it more,” he said.
“That’s only the first step though, and now we’ve got to make sure we take the opportunity we have and try to do our best.”