Halfback Nick Phipps says the NSW Waratahs have no intention of softening their abrasive playing style, and sees the extra attention to their physicality as merely “a compliment”.
Winger Rob Horne became the third player cited by Super Rugby officials in the past week, suspended for three matches for a lifting tackle in the weekend’s loss to the Lions in Johannesburg.
He joins lock Will Skelton and hooker Tolu Latu who were last week also banned for dangerous tackles.
Peter Betham is expected to start in Horne’s absence, but utility back Jono Lance flew out to join the team ahead of their remaining South Africa tour match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Phipps said it was disappointing to lose Horne for the “do-or-die” clash, which could determine whether they retain the Australian conference lead or hand it back to the Brumbies.
“It’s not great to have anyone suspended or injured – but we’ve got three at the moment,” he told AAP on Monday.
“Horne often doesn’t get heralded for all the work that he does, so we’re going to miss him a lot.”
Phipps said it was hard to say whether his side were being more closely scrutinised because of coach Michael Cheika’s physical approach, but knows they’ve got to be a lot smarter about their tackle finishes.
“We’ve obviously wanted to play that physical style of footy and we’re not going to back down from that at all,” he said.
“Knowing there’s a lot of people watching us and how we go about things, it’s a bit of a compliment really.
“If they’re so worried about our physicality that they have to look to things to find, then that’s the way we’re going to keep on playing. That’s the identity that we want to keep.
“We definitely wouldn’t have won the finals series last year without the physicality and that’s what we’ve got to keep building.”
Phipps said as long as the referees’ decisions and reviews were “equal across the board”, then he had no issues with the stance officials were taking.
“They want to try and stamp out foul play in the game and that’s for the benefit … of the players’ wellbeing,” he said.
“We’re happy to toe the line. We like to play very hard but very fair.”