Underdog Waratahs can shock Lions: Cheika, Grey

Super Rugby
by RUGBY.com.au staff

They steered the Waratahs to a memorable Super Rugby title in 2014 as front-runners, and playing on home turf the whole way.

But former NSW coaches Michael Cheika and Nathan Grey believe the Waratahs, under their old colleague Daryl Gibson, can use their underdog status and good form on the road to get the job done in the semi-final against the Lions tonight in Johannesburg.

The Waratahs are rated long-shots by the bookies to win their first semi-final since they beat the Brumbies four years ago but that outsider status will serve them well, believes Cheika.

“I think they're in a great position,” the Wallabies coach said. 

“I don't think many people expect them to win over there because of the Lions etcetera, but that's probably the biggest advantage they have is that element of surprise on their side.

“They've played good games away from home this year and I'm very confident they'll come away with the win.

”I think they showed (in the quarter-final win over the Highlanders) what they can do when they really got fully committed to the cause. 

“That second half they were awesome, the footy was great, everyone was on their feet at the stadium it was a great atmosphere.”

Cheika finished up with the Waratahs in 2015 to coach the Wallabies full-time, and Grey juggled duties for the Tahs and Australia until the end of last year.

Grey left at a low ebb for the Waratahs, particularly around his area of expertise - defence.

With conditioning levels that players have since admitted were sub-standard, the Waratahs conceded their most every points-per-game, at a tick over 35.

Within a season, however, the Waratahs have turned it around. Their fitness has lifted considerably, defence has improved markedly and the Tahs’ attack has been exceptional. 

It has combined for a strong season and Grey said he’s been “super proud” of Gibson and his staff, and the Waratahs players.

“A Super Rugby season is a daunting prospect,” Grey said.

‘It’s a very tough competition so to put themselves in a position where they are able to play for a spot in the big dance is very exciting. It’s a daunting prospect playing at Ellis Park but no doubt they’ll be ready and it will be a good contest.”

Grey believes the Waratahs’ success this year has been due to their consistency, and ability to ice the opportunities they get to score points.

“Your ability to create is one thing but the ability to finish things off probably differentiates the good teams from the great teams, and the Waratahs in the last few months have really started to click around their ability to finish things off,” Grey said.

“They were always able to create opportunities but from an attacking perspective, there is a lot of polish in what they’re doing.

“Defensively they have been a lot more constructive in their defensive structures and effectiveness as well. Combine those two things together and that creates a very dangerous package.”

Grey believes the Waratahs can beat the Lions by using their defensive pressure and linespeed.

“You have got to play for 80 minutes against the Lions. They’re a very strong finishing team,” Grey said.

“The Waratahs can put them under pressure if they get points early perhaps and start to make the Lions shift around their game, and start to chase a little bit.

“The Lions are a high possession team and they’ll run rom their own territory. I have no doubt if NSW can put them under pressure, you see a lot of long passes from the Lions and with linespeed, that creates opportunities for the defence.”

The Waratahs take on the Lions on Saturday night in Johannesburg, kicking off at 3:05pm local, 11:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.