Waratahs bracing for Brumbies onslaught
WITH one eye still fixed on sneaking into the playoffs, the Brumbies will also be relishing the prospect of putting a major dent in the Waratahs' preparations for the Super Rugby finals when they lock horns at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
After being toppled as the Australian conference champions, a crown they had held for the past two seasons, the Brumbies are clinging to the remote hope that they can rescue their season by qualifying for the top eight.
But they need a minor miracle to get there after losing to the Chiefs at the weekend in heartbreaking and controversial fashion.
Not only do they have to knock over the in-form Waratahs and get themselves a bonus point, they're also relying on the Rebels and the Sharks helping them out by losing their final matches next weekend.
The chances of all three results going their way are remote but if the cards don't fall their way, the Brumbies could get still get some small satisfaction from making life difficult for their fiercest rivals, who wrapped up the Australian conference with a game in hand after a record 77-29 romp over the struggling Sunwolves.
Far from the finished product, the Waratahs are still very much a work in progress but they are peaking at the right time and have plenty to play for this weekend even through they've already locked up home ground advantage for the first week of the finals.
Another win would be just the tonic to boost their surging confidence as it would see them finish the regular season in second place and secure an easier path to the final while a loss could be disastrous, stalling the momentum they have built up since the June test break and leaving them with a trickier route to navigate.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson is expecting fireworks and is rallying the team's supporters to turn up in numbers.
"They are playing some brilliant footy as well, so it's going to be a hell of a contest," he said.
"I'm really hoping that the public get swinging behind this team because I think they deserve it."
There's also the dangled carrot for players on both teams to push their claims for selection in the Wallabies squad for the upcoming Rugby Championship, not that either team needs any extra incentive given their long and fierce history.
With emotions sure to be high, the key to winning could be which side settles quickest after both were horribly slow out of the blocks last weekend.
The Brumbies fell 17-0 behind before they finally got their act together against the Chiefs only to be cruelly denied at the death when the referee ruled they knocked the ball on even though replays showed the ball had been touched by an opponent.
The Waratahs found themselves trailing the Sunwolves after half an hour before running away with the match in the second half when the wooden-spooners were reduced to 14 then 13 men.
"I always knew the potential in this team and I'm really pleased that we're starting to see that and it's really coming out," Gibson said.
"I always said that we wanted to transform ourselves into winners."