BERRY’S Will Miller and his NSW Waratahs might be guaranteed a home quarter-final next weekend but have every intention of claiming a clean sweep of victories against Australian opposition for the first time in a season since 2010.
Ahead of a final regular-season match against the Brumbies on Saturday, there is still plenty of motivation for the Waratahs. Yes, momentum heading into their first finals campaign since 2015 is beneficial. So too is putting themselves in second position, guaranteeing a home semi-final, should they win a quarter-final next weekend.
However, the chance to have a 100 per cent winning record against every Australian franchise is something that has been spoken about at training this week.
NSW have managed two wins against the Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds this year, to go with a victory in the nation’s capital in late March despite Israel Folau doing his hamstring in the fourth minute of the match.
Not since 2010 have the Waratahs been able to go a whole season undefeated against Australian opposition. Eight years ago during the Super 14 era, NSW only had to play the Reds, Force and Brumbies once each in a round-robin format.
It makes a potential six wins from six starts this year even more impressive. “There’s the opportunity that this game is the last game we play against Australian conference rivals and so far this year we’ve got an unblemished record,” said Waratahs assistant coach Chris Malone. “We want to maintain that. The reality is you want to win games at this time of year. You want to go into the quarter-final on the back of a win against a good, tough side. That’s really important for us. Second spot on the ladder is at stake so there is plenty for is to play for,” he said.
Despite the Waratahs dominating Australian rivals this year, Malone said there was no question cutting a Super Rugby team last year has benefited the game. “Every team is greater in terms of their depth and that’s contributing to everyone being better, more competitive across the board in Super Rugby and I think it’s been a great move,” Malone said.
“The knock-on effect hopefully is the growth of the game and the state of the game in both NSW and across Australia. It’s really important for Australian teams to be competing in the finals.”
There were no major injury concerns for the Waratahs coming away from their 77-25 win over the Sunwolves in Sydney. Spirits are high as players prepare themselves for a solid hit-out before a quarter-final the following week.
The Brumbies may have lost their last four Australian derbies away from home but have bragging rights in Sydney, having beaten the Waratahs in the last two matches at Allianz Stadium.
Meanwhile, Jed Holloway says he has enjoyed his move to the second row. The Waratahs have won their last three matches with Holloway in the second row; a position he has not played since his under-20s days.
“I’ve been able to get my hands on the ball a bit more,” Holloway said. “I’m enjoying the playing time I’m getting and … hopefully the coaches are seeing that I’m grabbing it with both hands as well.
“With [Michael] Wellsy playing outstanding, Will Miller coming into the squad and being great for us and Ned [Hanigan] playing a bit [for the] Wallabies a position opened there for me.”
Despite piling on 12 tries and breaking the club record for the most points scored in a game, Holloway said the Waratahs were harsh markers when it came to their defensive performance against the Sunwolves.
“We let in 25 points against the Sunwolves and that’s still not a very good defensive effort,” Holloway said. “That’s what we need to improve on in order to get better and to compete with the teams like the Crusaders, who we hopefully face four or five weeks down the track in that grand final.”