The NSW Waratahs are confident they can continue on their relentless march to the Super Rugby finals without star fullback Israel Folau.
The NSW Waratahs are intent on proving they’re no one-man band with an ominous pre-finals statement against the Queensland Reds on Saturday night.
The Super Rugby minor premiers enter the final-round Australian conference derby in Brisbane without Israel Folau for the first time since losing two out of three matches in his absence mid-season.
In contrast, the Waratahs have won nine of 11 games with the competition’s leading tryscorer on deck.
But while acknowledging the Waratahs struggled without Folau, five-eighth Bernard Foley said the losses to the Sharks in Durban and Western Force in Perth also came at a time when the side hadn’t hit its straps.
“Across the board when he was out, we hadn’t hit our stride as a team,” Foley said.
“With Izzy out now, it gives us a really good opportunity to show we don’t have to rely on one player.”
Foley said the Waratahs were in a similar position last week after losing captain Dave Dennis to a season-ending knee injury before responding with a 28-point mauling of the Highlanders to clinch a home semi-final.
The Waratahs won’t be shying away from their flamboyant ball-in-hand style with Cam Crawford covering for Folau at fullback.
But they respect the wounded Reds enough to also not be promising to throw the ball around willy nilly at Suncorp Stadium, where the Tahs have lost their past three derbies.
“The Reds are going to give us a really tough battle, so we can’t be reckless in trying to run it from everywhere,” Foley said.
“But in saying that, we haven’t changed our game plan to counter for the opposition or for our personnel.
“We’ve still got some great runners in our backline. Cam Crawford is really excited for the opportunity to show his worth.
“We play a game for Izzy’s strengths and positives and this week we’ve got to do the same, but for Cam.
“As a backline, we haven’t changed too much. We want to go out and express ourselves and play the way we’ve been playing and enjoying all season.”
The Waratahs will finish top regardless of the result, while the depleted Reds have long been out of the finals hunt.
Veteran prop Benn Robinson said it would be great to put NSW’s arch rivals to the sword – but not necessarily to carry a franchise-record seven straight wins into the finals.
“I see this game on the weekend as its own entity. I’m not looking too far forward,” he said.
“The chance for NSW to play Queensland up in Queensland and hopefully put a big win on is pretty enticing for me.
“If we win on the weekend, I won’t say it’s going to give us momentum but it’s another step forward.”