Veteran back rower Stephen Hoiles has revealed the Waratahs will take a backs to the wall mentality into their Super Rugby home semi-final against the Highlanders on Saturday.
Hoiles believes any of the four teams contesting the two trans-tasman semi-finals could win the competition, with the Hurricanes hosting the Brumbies in Saturday’s other matchup.
Defending champions NSW earned a week off before the semi-finals for a second straight year, but Hoiles acknowledged it had been a harder slog than last year’s super-charged sprint to the last four over the second half of the season.
“The season has been a little bit different to last year because we’ve had to fight for a lot more wins,” Hoiles said.
“We haven’t had that dream run we went on last year, we haven’t put sides away by 20, 30 points like we did a lot last year.
“We’ve had to work really hard for every game and I think that has helped us.
“We’re trying to do something no Australian team has ever done before (win back-to-back titles), so we very much feel as though we’ve got our backs against the wall and that’s the mentality we’re taking in and I think the wins we’ve had this year have reflected that.”
Hoiles had plenty of respect for a Highlanders side he felt probably went under the radar in the red-hot New Zealand conference until the last few weeks and that their pack hadn’t got the credit they merited.
“They don’t get the accolades they deserve and I think it’s probably the way they like it down in the south of New Zealand,” Hoiles said.
“They are not the big names of the other sides and they probably feel as though they are the side that gets the least praise in New Zealand and they probably feed off that.”
The Waratahs lost 26-19 to the Highlanders in Dunedin early in the season after leading 12-0.
“We definitely felt that we could have won that game, but we probably didn’t respect them enough on the night,” Hoiles said.
“I think having a game against them that we lost probably makes us a little bit more wary of them.”
Former Brumbies captain Hoiles wasn’t thinking much about possibly playing his old side in the final, but was impressed with their thrashing of the Stormers in South Africa last weekend.
“I thought they could win, but I was surprised at the scoreline, so it just shows how dominant they were and they will go over to New Zealand pretty confident too,” Hoiles said.
“It would be interesting if that (an all-Australian final) would happen, but we’ve got to knock the Highlanders off first, and see what happens over in New Zealand.