Wary coach Daryl Gibson has warned his NSW Waratahs to underestimate the lowly Cheetahs at their peril in Saturday night’s Super Rugby clash at Allianz Stadium.
The Waratahs have regained control of their finals fate with back-to-back wins in Perth and Cape Town and resume their mid-season push desperate to snap a three-match losing streak on home turf.
With just two wins in 2016 – and both coming against battling newcomers the Sunwolves – the Cheetahs have been among the competition’s easybeats.
But that only makes the South Africans more of a concern, according to Gibson, who hasn’t forgotten the despair of falling to the Cheetahs in Sydney three years ago.
“I still remember that day walking off and it wasn’t a nice feeling,” Gibson said after Friday’s captain’s run.
“That’s been in my memory and is something that we want to erase.
“They’re a dangerous prospect. They love to run with the ball and attack and when a team has nothing to lose, they’re probably more dangerous.”
Skipper Michael Hooper needs no reminding that the Cheetahs also ambushed the Waratahs in Sydney in 2012 and says there can be no room for any complacency.
“The Cheetahs can put you under threat from all over the field, which just means that you have to be onto the small things on your game throughout,” Hooper said.
“Otherwise they can really run riot.”
With the Melbourne Rebels having a bye this weekend, the Tahs have a great shot at assuming the Australian conference lead – and they still have a game in hand over all but two teams, including arch rivals the Brumbies.
“Obviously we’ve given ourselves an opportunity back in the conference now and we’re eager to make sure we focus on putting in a good performance on Saturday,” Gibson said.
“We’ve grown as a team and got a lot closer. A galvanising couple of weeks have really pulled the squad together.
“Certainly at the moment we’ve got a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum, and we’re keen to make sure we continue that.”
The Waratahs are confident star centre Israel Folau will be fit to start despite battling a sapping virus that afflicted most of the squad in South Africa.
After being unable to train on Thursday, Folau managed to complete some light duties at Friday’s captain’s run and Gibson says he’ll play.