Centre Adam Ashley-Cooper says the Waratahs need to learn to adapt on the run and there’ll be no bigger test of that than a match against the high-flying Crusaders next Saturday.
NSW was taught a bruising lesson by a defensively gritty Brumbies side in a 19-13 loss on Friday night, with Ashley-Cooper admitting they were too slow to adapt to the ACT’s rush defence.
“We've got to be able to adjust better in games and that's all about feedback loops, adapting on the run, seeing what's in front of you and they did,” he said.
“They came out with some line speed, they showed a picture they hadn't previously done in the last couple of games.
“That was a good tactic that they prepared for, they prepared and came out and didn't allow us to attack the way we wanted to.
“I think for us moving forward that's one of our learnings, is just being able to adapt on the run.
“I'm guessing that the Crusaders will probably adopt something similar with that line speed and so we've got to be ready for that.”
Karmichael Hunt is expected to return to the Waratahs team to face the Crusaders, something that might settle their backline after his consistent defensive efforts this season.
If he does return, it appears likely that Kurtley Beale would shift to fullback with Israel Folau on the wing and Ashley-Cooper said whoever was picked they would simply have to work to their strengths.
“I think because K's been playing really good football this year - he's been strong, he's been solid, he's been getting us over the advantage line, he's been strong in defence - naturally, that's a little bit of a loss but also we've got the backline, we've got the talent, we've got the skill sets to reshuffle and cover that," he said.
“Whether he's available or not, we'll cope. It's hard, when you've got Karmichael at 12 or KB at 12, it changes the dynamic a little but we'll just have to wait and see who's available and then we'll got to that.
“It's important to play to your strengths in the backline, so we've got to wait and see who's available and what kind of game plan will formulate from that.”
The Waratahs’ star-studded backline has been criticised early this season with its key 2018 cogs having patchy form so far this year, and again they were found wanting against the Brumbies.
Ashley-Cooper said they couldn't be preoccupied with any external commentary going into matches.
“There's always going to be that expectation, particularly with the Waratahs,” he said.
“I don't think we need to concern ourselves with other people's expectations, we need to concern ourselves with our own expectation and that's just performing well, having our own standards.
“It's all about role detail and executing that. I think if you do that and everyone else takes care of their job, it creates that trust.
“It just goes a long way in being able to allow the player just to play their own game. Israel Folau talks about it all the time - boys just don't stress about the detail, stress about the collective goal, whatever it is, just play footy, see what's in front of you, trust your own instincts.”
The Crusaders’ round five match against the Highlanders was cancelled earlier on Saturday in the wake of a tragic mass shooting in Christchurch but next week’s SCG match is set to go ahead.
The Kiwi powerhouses are on a record 19-match winning streak and Ashley-Cooper said the Waratahs were embracing the chance to take on the competition benchmark.
“I'm excited, because these are the games you want to play,” he said.
“They're an awesome team, these are the games you certainly want to play so I can't wait to be involved in that.
“I think special games bring on special weeks so really looking forward to getting back into Daceyville on Monday and responding the way that the Tahs can.”
The Waratahs take on the Crusaders at the SCG on Saturday March 23, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.