The NSW Waratahs are backing their new-found stability to help deliver a potentially season-defining Super Rugby win over the high-flying Stormers in Cape Town.
For the first time in 21 years of Super Rugby, the Waratahs have just one game in South Africa – and they are plotting a daring hit-and-run mission to bring home four priceless competition points to remain in the finals hunt.
With six wins from eight starts, the Stormers are top of the South African group, second overall and sure to provide a barometer of how the Tahs are travelling.
The Stormers dealt the Waratahs a lesson in execution and strategy in a 32-18 victory in Sydney last year after NSW prevailed at Newlands in their drought-breaking 2014 championship-winning season.
“It’s a real crucial game for us. We need to perform well,” said Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson.
“To win this game, we’re going to have to play to our very best.
“We’ve had a really good attitude to our training this week. They are excited to get away on tour. This year’s schedule, we haven’t travelled a lot; it’s a good opportunity.”
Veteran Dean Mumm is in at blindside flanker to cover for injured youngster Jack Dempsey in the only change to the NSW side who thumped the Western Force 49-13 in Perth.
“We’ve got a nice stable feel,” Gibson said.
“(We’re) really focused on building on that performance.”
Waratahs captain and flanker Michael Hooper has had his critics in 2016 but Stormers coach Robbie Fleck is not among them.
Fleck has reconfigured his back row to counter the threat of Hooper on Sunday morning (AEST), with Schalk Burger returning to the starting line-up at No.8, Nizaam Carr moving back to the side of the scrum and Siya Kolisi going to the bench as Sikhumbuzo Notshe retains his place.
“The Waratahs had a slow start to the campaign, but they’ve always had quality coaching and players, and it was just a matter of time before they found their feet again,” Fleck said.
“They found a bit of rhythm against the Force and they’re looking ominous again.
“I think they will be smarter than what they were (last year) in Sydney, where they forced their hand a bit.”
Gibson is making no secret of the 11th-placed Waratahs’ plan to take any points on offer from penalties against the competition’s stingiest defensive outfit.
“If we can get the scoreboard ticking, that’s part of it,” he said.
“We’ve been talking about that all week and what we’re going to do to try and get ourselves some tries.
“It’s going to be a difficult task, but one that I think we’re more than capable of.”