A conference clean sweep is motivation enough for the Waratahs to throw everything at a final round clash with the Brumbies this weekend, attack coach Chris Malone says.
NSW has beaten every team in its conference at every opportunity so far, with just this week’s home clash against the Brumbies to come.
Though they have already sewn up the Australian conference title, a clean sweep would reinforce their status as top of the Aussies and hand them some crucial momentum into the playoffs.
“We know that rivalry against the Brumbies has been a big part of the history of Super Rugby for NSW and NSW people,” he said.
“Also 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 and we want to maintain that.”
The carrot of a second-placed finish is a big one for the Waratahs too, ensuring they won’t be leaving any of their big names on the sideline this weekend.
Super Rugby teams have in the past been tempted to rest players in the final round, though often it’s a tactic that has burned them in the long run.
The Waratahs learned that the hard way in 2002 when the side rested players in the final round against the Crusaders, suffering their heaviest Super Rugby loss ever before being touched up by the Brumbies in the first week of finals.
Malone said their focus this year was on ensuring they were collecting wins at every opportunity in the run to the finals.
“The reality is you want to win games at this time of year,” he said.
“You want to go into a quarter-final on the back of a win against a good tough side and that's really important for us.
“Obviously, second spot on the ladder is at stake - there's plenty for us to play for.
“The Brumbies potentially still have a chance to make the eight, so they've got a lot to play for and it's going to be a great game.”
Waratahs stars Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale have played every match this year, including nearly every minute of the Wallabies June Series, but Malone said a new strength and conditioning structure in 2018 would keep everyone fresh.
“It's a matter of making sure that we've got the energy again for the performance this weekend,” he said.
“Through (strength and conditioning coach) Brad Harrington, he's done a really good job in our athletic performance this year in ensuring we get to games full of running and I think that's when you're going to see the best of this team when we're able to do that.”
The Brumbies are Australia’s stingiest side when it comes to points and they will pose a starkly different, and much more aggressive, challenge to the leaky Sunwolves in Sydney.
Forward Jed Holloway said their pack would have to step up to that on both sides of the ball.
“They're physical, they're not going to throw it around, they're going to try and play through us,” he said.
“It's going to be on us as a tight five or as a forward unit ot really front up and try take them on physically.
“Their maul's been outstanding for years now so we're really relishing that challenge and can't wait to rip into them.
“We let in 25 points (against the Sunwolves) and that's still not a very good defensive effort,” he 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.”
The Waratahs host the Brumbies on Saturday night, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.