They’ve lost six games this season but the fact none of the defeats have been by more than eight points is keeping the Waratahs confident they can still be a finals force
That’s the view of Waratahs backrower Michael Wells, who returns from injury to take on the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday night.
NSW are in desperate need of a win after dropping two consecutive games against South African rivals, the Sharks and the Bulls.
Stalled congestion on the Australian conference has ensured the Waratahs haven’t been left behind – yet – but the Tahs are well aware they need to start banking away points to finish atop the ladder.
It appears unlikely Australia will field two teams in the playoffs but even with a mounting tally of losses, the Waratahs remain confident their season is alive given all of their defeats have been by tight margins.
“I think it is because we are seeing glimpses of it, and whilst it is not good enough that we are just showing glimpses and we want to show a full game, it allows you to stay motivated knowing you are there,” Wells said.
“If you were getting blown out week after week, it’d be different sort of thing, you’d feel a bit disheartened.
“But we are losing in close games and while losses aren’t acceptable, losing close ones can kind of spur you on and motivate you more.”
The Waratahs’ desire to finish strongly and at least emulate their semi-final appearance last season – where they lost to the Lions in Johannesburg – has them on edge and fired up at training, said Wells.
So much so there’s been plenty of heat this week ahead of their return visit to Ellis Park.
“There is a bit of niggle at training and the boys are really firing,” Wells said.
“Hoops wants everyone to treat training with the intensity like games, that’s what he expects.”
The Lions have welcomed back Malcolm Marx and Warren Whitely for the Tahs clash, and Wells said there is no escaping the fact that the game be won and lost “up front”.
“The Lions are a very strong team,” Wells said.
“Big, fast, mobile and they have the likes of Kwagga Smith, who has come from his sevens background. And their on-ballers are probably second to none in terms of the competition. It’ll be a really good test for our forward pack.
“Last year we came in (to the semi-final) knowing they were going to give it to us physically, and while we matched them in most parts we were a bit disappointed in how we handled their attacking maul sometimes. We just know if we can match them up front in the forwards our backs will handle their job. It will be the physical battle that dictates who wins tomorrow.
“What we learned in last year’s semi is it’s not going to be good enough to perform in patches. We have to play the full 80 minutes.”
The Waratahs will look to play an up-tempo game to tire out the Lions’ forwards, and Wells is hoping his time with the Aussie sevens program early this year will be an advantage.
He is uncertain if he’ll continue doing the mixed sevens-fifteens life next year but he said Brumbies backrower Tom Cusack, who this week signed on to do the double-format next season, will make a good transition.
“I’m still sorting out what I’m doing next year, that is still going on and negotiations are still happening,” Wells said.
“In regard to the challenges I think it’s very different going from XVs to sevens, as I’ve said in the past.
“It’s just the speeds they operate at. Your skills are really magnified and so you really need to get up to speed quite quickly and that Cusack will do quite well in that sense. He has got a massive engine, I have known that from my time playing with him and against him. He won’t have any trouble conditioning-wise it will just be getting back to the speed of everything. That will take an adjustment from the XVs to the sevens.”