Waratahs backrower Michael Wells says they won’t get sucked into wearing the ‘underdog’ tag this weekend against the undefeated Crusaders.
The Crusaders have beaten all comers in the opening five weeks of the year, including the Brumbies and Reds, producing some incredible comebacks along the way, including a nine-point win against the Blues after trailing by 16 points at the break.
NSW produced its own miracle comeback last Friday night, besting the Rebels and topping the Crusaders’ 16-point turnaround clawing their way back from 19 points down to win by seven.
That win has breathed life into the Waratahs’ season and Wells said they had to channel that against the Crusaders, and indeed every Kiwi side.
“Outsiders watching don't expect Australian teams to win and so if you buy into that belief of 'we're the underdogs here' you can find yourself in positions where you should win the game and you'll find a way to lose it because you don't believe, or you're not supposed to be in that position,” he said.
“We had two tries in three minutes (against the Rebels) to really put us ahead at the end and knowing we can do that against a team that was all over us in the first half and putting a lot of points on us, puts us in a good position against the Crusaders.
“Knowing that we can come back, we don't really have to stress about that sort of stuff.
Different opposition pose different challenges but I think the belief's there and it's building every week.”
The Waratahs have a relatively strong record against their trans-Tasman rivals, their 45-25 win over the Chiefs last year, the most recent Australian victory over a New Zealand team and one of just three in 2016, with the Reds the best last season with a win (Highlanders) and a draw (Blues).
In 2015, the year after beating the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final, the Waratahs beat three of their Kiwi opponents, including defeating the Hurricanes in Wellington, sharing the best trans-Trasman record with the Rebels.
Wells, who came off the bench and scored a pivotal try in the Waratahs’ late surge against the Rebels, said it was the cool heads of returning flyhalf Bernard Foley and the senior players across the field that helped keep the faith.
“If they're (leaders) going ,'just the next step, the next play, the next set piece, the next couple of minutes,’ it's not looking at the bigger picture, it's more of a process-driven outcome.
“We're focusing on the next process, whether it be a tackle, a hit up, that sort of thing and that breeds the belief, just being process-driven.”
Wells has been shifted to the bench in recent weeks with the return of Jed Holloway to number eight and stayed there against the Rebels, with Ned Hanigan favoured to replace Jack Dempsey at six.
With a depth in the backrow that they don’t enjoy in other positions, Wells said there was healthy competition, but not at the expense of the bigger team goals.
“Everyone knows that you have a poor game or you slip up a little bit, there's that next guy waiting to take a spot or really step up and take an opportunity and that's the great thing about having a younger squad,” he said.
“We all help each other, go to each other at half time (and ask) 'You got anything for me?', review games together, everyone's got feedback for each other and it's all very constructive and very positive.”
The Waratahs will be treading carefully with some of their biggest names ahead of Sunday’s clash, with Rob Horne, Jed Holloway Foley slated to miss training on Monday, though none of them are seriously in doubt scrum coach Cam Blades said.
“We're obviously going into a short turnaround for the Hurricanes too (in round seven), so some pretty important decisions to be made around guys medically during this week,” he said.
The Waratahs host the Crusaders on Sunday afternoon, kicking off at 4:05pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via radio on RUGBY.com.au.