Want to know if the Waratahs are firing? Just watch Kurtley Beale.
That’s the view of halfback Nick Phipps as the Waratahs prepare to vie for a spot in the Super Rugby final.
Beale and his playmaking mate Bernard Foley stepped up against the Highlanders, but it is Beale’s evolution that has made him a barometer for the Waratahs.
Looking even beyond the immediate past, Beale has been a pivotal part of any of the Waratahs’ recent success, including the 2014 run to the title.
The last two seasons in which the Waratahs have missed finals, Beale was injured and then in the UK, unable to play a large part.
Phipps said Beale’s form and mindset were telling when it came to the rest of the team.
“Yeah KB's definitely that man for us, he’s our spark,” he said.
“Seeing KB grow this year and his ability to not only be that spark, that ability to turn nothing into something (but) also his control - he wants to be in that leadership role, driving the way we play as much as possible.
“When we want to know how the squad's going we ask him because he gets that feel, he feels the squad and how things are going and he's obviously playing some great footy.
“(So, we’ll) put the big boy on ice and make sure he's ready to go on Sunday.
Phipps dismissed the notion that travel would impact the way they play against the Lions, committing to the fast-paced mentality they’ve adopted this season
“Every single person in the squad's travelled before and we're all complete professionals,” he said.
“We've got the best doctors and S&Cs in the country helping us out so it's really no big issue.
“At the Tahs over the last five years, we've changed the way that we like to play and we like to play quick, unrelenting footy.
“I don't think we'll come to the semi-final and change the way we play now.”
The Waratahs outlasted the Highlanders in their quarter-final with their desperation in the final stages of an epic comeback win and Phipps said they would need to bring that in spades against the Lions.
“Those little one percenters down to the bottom of a ruck, the ability to get in there, slow the ball down or really put your head in a dark spot right on our try line (are important),” he said.
“(As) someone who's been trying to drive the culture of the squad like that with a few other blokes, seeing that coming to fruition at the most important part of the season makes me really proud.
“Now, it's just important that we just keep bringing those little tough moments, those competing for every little contest across the field all day on Saturday.”
The pace of the Waratahs game extends to their forwards and prop Tom Robertson said a focus on mobility rather than sheer size was beginning to reap rewards.
“If you look at guys like Will Miller, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper even - they're not the biggest guys in the competition but they're some of the fittest and they hit hard,” he said.
“I think that's the most important thing and we've had a plan all year about how we want to outwork the other forward pack and that's slowly starting to work so hopefully we can use that on the weekend.”
In injury news, Michael Wells and Rob Simmons are both on track to recover from head knocks to face the Lions.