The NSW Waratahs have the chance to skip clear of the Western Force in the Australian conference with a Super Rugby derby win in Perth.
With little wriggle room in a congested Australian conference, the NSW Waratahs are acutely aware of the importance of bursting the Western Force’s bubble in Saturday’s Super Rugby derby in Perth.
If ever there’s an “eight-point” match, it will come at nib Stadium where the fourth-placed Waratahs can open up a potentially decisive break on the fifth-placed Force – or surrender their spot in Australia’s top two to the WA surprise packets.
Approaching the halfway point of the competition, three Australian sides are positioned in the overall top five, with the Brumbies one point ahead of NSW, the Force another two points back and the Queensland Reds still well in the mix for a finals berth just a further two points adrift.
Away wins are the rarest commodity in 2014 and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika admits a victory over the Force in Perth would be priceless.
“Obviously it’s an important game in the bigger picture of the comp, that’s for sure,” Cheika said on Tuesday.
“It’s an away game and they have been so hard to win – across the board for any team – so if we can take a home game off one of our conference challengers, then it puts you in a good position.
“But we’re very aware they’re a team that’s been on a roll and firing on all cylinders.
“It’s going to be very difficult but the lads are feeling good and they’re up for the challenge.”
The Force are riding a club-record four-game winning streak, their last-up defeat of the Reds in Brisbane placing the Waratahs on high alert.
The Force have a habit of troubling the Tahs and even after losing to NSW in round one in Sydney, Cheika sensed they were in for a good year.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all now to see them winning because they’ve got a good team with x-factor players, guys who can make a break, score tries and create something out of nothing,” he said.
“They’ve got a bit of edge around their forward pack and they work hard.
“They’ll always have a good set piece with Michael Foley as coach, so they’ve got the basis there of a very successful formula.”
Cheika is once again hopeful that Wallabies fullback Israel Folau will return this weekend after missing both matches in South Africa with a throat injury.
“He’ll train today. He’s just got to get through his contact work well and he should be okay,” he said.
Beating the Stormers in Cape Town without Folau, who bagged eight tries in his first four games this campaign, was particularly pleasing for the Waratahs on Sunday when Kurtley Beale excelled as his fill-in.
Against the Force, the Waratahs must win without another Wallaby star after No.8 Wycliff Palu returned to Sydney on Tuesday for further treatment for an ankle injury.