Discipline and defence are the buzz words driving the NSW Waratahs as they strive to stop the Crusaders juggernaut and win back wavering fans.
Skipper Jake Gordon views Saturday’s hosting of the benchmark Crusaders at Leichhardt Oval as a huge opportunity for the Waratahs to repay their faithful supporters and ignite a Super Rugby Pacific finals charge at the same time.
But the halfback knows the Waratahs have no hope of upsetting the 10-times champions – even while understrength after resting four key players – if they continue having players sent off.
Despite a gallant fightback, the Tahs’ prospect of claiming their first New Zealand scalp in three years all but evaporated in the opening quarter of last week’s 51-27 loss to the Chiefs after prop Angus Bell was red carded, then centre Jamie Roberts a few minutes later.
Bell was marched in the second minute for an alleged dangerous tackle, which SANZAAR subsequently deemed didn’t meet the red-card threshold, while Roberts followed him to the sheds after a deliberate knockdown.
Gordon has lost patience, issuing his side with a none-too-subtle warning after Friday’s captain’s run.
“If we are to compete against the New Zealand teams, we need 15 players on the field at all times,” he said.
“Discipline, especially early on, probably hurt us.
“Belly’s a big part of our game, especially off go-forward ball. We use him a lot in set piece.
“So that (red card) was upsetting, and they were really clinical when we had two men in the bin.”
And if the Chiefs are clinical, the Crusaders are next level – as evident in their 42-17 disposal of the Melbourne Rebels last start.
Four of the Crusaders’ six tries came from forwards as the Super Rugby kings romped to a 25th win in their past 26 trans-Tasman encounters.
“They’ve got some great athletes,” Gordon said.
“A big focus for us this week was our defence and our one-up tackles and slowing down their momentum.
“We need to do the little things right, stay in the fight for 80 minutes. We know if we can control possession, we can score points.”
Scoring points is another must, with the Crusaders averaging 44 points in their past 10 games against Australian opposition.
The Tahs, though, can take heart from winning three of their past five against the Crusaders on home soil.
The visitors will also be without fly-half Richie Mo’unga, lock Sam Whitelock, winger Sevu Reece and uncapped loosehead prop George Bower as part of the All Blacks’ resting policy.
Not that the Tahs care.
“They’re obviously a top team for a reason,” Gordon said.
“They’ve got a lot of depth in their squad. They are resting a few but they’re also bringing in a few guys.”