The Waratahs would be “crazy” to let the altitude of Johannesburg spook them into ditching the high-tempo attacking footy that has got them to the Super Rugby semi-finals, according to assistant coach Chris Malone.
And Malone believes the Waratahs being in much better physical condition than last year, where NSW tried to run-and-gun with the Lions at Ellis Park but got thumped 55-36, means they’ll have more than enough petrol to deploy their game.
Anticipating the fatigue that the thin air of Johannesburg will bring on, teams often attempt to slow a game down against the Lions; who are always keen to play at pace.
But Malone said the Waratahs won’t go away from their running game, and if anything, their focus will be on reducing stoppages.
"The first thing we are a hell of a lot fitter than that stage last year (round two),” Malone said.
“And ultimately the footy that we have produced this year, at its best is what has got us to where we are.
“So for us not to play our game, it would be crazy. Having player the Lions once this year, we made 37 turnovers in that game.
“Any team that does that isn’t going to be successful, so we have been controlling the ball a lot better in recent times.
“With the players we have got, we clearly play a game of rugby designed to suit the players we have and the talents they have, so we won’t go away from that.”
The Waratahs will name their team on Thursday for the first semi-final appearance since 2015, and though both have to still pass concussion protocols, Malone said he expected both Rob Simmons and Michael Wells would play.
That would solve a potential headache of having to reshuffle both the back and second rows; a less than welcome prospect given the Lions are a strong set-piece team.
The Lions monstered the Jaguares scrum in the quarter-final, and on the back of world’s best hooker Malcolm Marx and their forward pack, the African champs flexed their muscle.
“They clearly like getting the ball into that forward pack of theirs. Their lineout has been a strength for a long time, their physicality, hey were pretty quick to the breakdown and Malcolm Marx was on the ball quickly,” Malone said.
“We learned we have to be pretty good at ruck time and we have to be pretty good in our carrying, but there is also opportunity for us in the way they play.”
But the Lions are far from one-trick felines, according to Malone. Indeed, their attacking prowess is often under-appreciated, particularly given they’ve scored the second most tries in Super Rugby this season and made the most linebreaks.
“They have a lot of tricks up their sleeve. They’re willing to run from their own line, they’re willing to put in attacking kicks from deep in their territory,” Malone said.
“They have a fairly good all around game. They have speed, they’ve got a lot of threats across the park. It is going to be a fascinating semi-final.”