The NSW Waratahs are wary of a vengeful and surging Crusaders side heading into Saturday’s crucial Super Rugby clash.
Down in ninth, the Crusaders are five points behind the sixth-placed Waratahs, but are renowned for their late season surges – they smashed Queensland 58-17 in their last game.
“They’ve got a track record of coming home strong and they showed the signs of that when they played the Reds,” Waratahs coach Michael Cheika said on Friday.
“Every year they tend to come good at the back end,” Waratahs captain and lock Dave Dennis said.
“I’m sure they still believe they are a really good chance of winning the competition, or definitely making the finals, so it’s going to be a really good challenge for us tomorrow night.”
It will be the first time the teams have clashed since the Waratahs scored a one-point win in last year’s final at ANZ Stadium, the venue for Saturday’s game.
“I imagine they would have been shattered after that result, so they are going to have plenty of fuel in the tank tomorrow night around motivation, definitely,” Dennis said.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder isn’t dwelling on revenge or the possibility of his team missing out on the finals for the first time in 14 years.
“If you look too far ahead you get caught up in the ‘what ifs’ and all that sort of stuff,” Blackadder told AAP.
“But if you just keep winning hopefully things will take care of themselves, that’s where our mindset is.
“Our destiny is still in our hands I think.
“They (NSW) are certainly a tough, aggressive side, so we should be in for one hell of a battle.”
A win will lift the Waratahs into first spot in the Australian conference above the Brumbies, who have a bye this week.
“We’re not too worried about that, were just focused on playing really good rugby,” Cheika said.
Dennis said NSW needed to be more accurate in their set-piece work and insisted the Waratahs had yet to produce their best form.
“I still feel as though we’ve got a lot left in us as a team, and I think the players sense that as well,” Dennis said.
A compelling breakdown duel looms between Waratahs star Michael Hooper and legendary All Blacks openside flanker Richie McCaw, who will start for the first time since suffering a head knock in late April.
Another key area will feature the playmakers, with All Blacks Dan Carter and Colin Slade on one side and Wallabies Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale on the other.