The NSW Waratahs are bracing for a derby of Test-match intensity when their Super Rugby finals hopes go on the line against the Western Force.
The Waratahs venture west admitting nothing less than victory on Saturday night will suffice after a series of tough near misses against the Highlanders, Melbourne and Brumbies.
Coach Daryl Gibson’s Waratahs have just two wins this season, both against the battling Queensland Reds.
“We need a win. We need a win for our spirits and to roll on and start building something,” skipper Michael Hooper said on Thursday.
Despite having never made the finals, the Force – whose only 2016 win also came against the Reds – have had the wood on the 2014 champions in recent times and the Tahs know their conference rivals will be stinging to retain interstate bragging rights.
“They’ve shown in the last three games (when) they’ve beaten us how much they enjoy it and how much they get up for the game,” Hooper said.
“So it’s going to be physical, big contacts. But we need to have that game. We need to have that different style of rugby.
“We’ve been playing a lot of ball in hand, really exhausting games. So this is going to be more Test-match style; A lot of ball in the air, and what we do on the ground when the ball is not in our hands is going to be really important.”
The Force will look to again attack the breakdown with vigour and Hooper knows the key to nullifying the home team’s back row isn’t rocket science.
“It’s really straightforward: ball carry, good presentation and urgency to the breakdown,” he said.
“Three fundamentals of the game. That’s what we need to get right and it needs to be a 15-man effort.”
Winger Rob Horne and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau return from injury in a double boost for Waratahs, with Gibson making three changes to his side beaten 26-20 by the Brumbies.
Horne will start on the wing in place of Matt Carraro after recovering from a broken hand, while Polota-Nau will come off the bench in his comeback from a broken arm on Saturday.
Celebrating his milestone 100th match for NSW, former captain Dave Dennis will start into the second row, with Dean Mumm on the bench as he battles a knee niggle.
Prop Paddy Ryan replaces injured veteran Benn Robinson, who has been ruled out due to an eye injury suffered against the Brumbies.