'Won two games so they're world beaters again': Tahs coach bats away Brumbies barb

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

Waratahs coach Rob Penney has laughed off suggestions his side think they're "world beaters" by deflecting the attention back on their opponents, calling the ladder-leading Brumbies "red hot favourites" ahead of their season defining clash in Canberra on Saturday night.

The mind games kicked off early on Thursday when Brumbies coach Dan McKellar threw out a barb midway through his press conference.

"They've won two games in a row so they're world beaters again and full of confidence, according to most," McKellar said.

It was a comment that didn't go unheard by the strong media turnout.

Later in the day a bemused Penney hit back.

"Did he say that, did he? Talking us up. Do you think he's trying to deflect?" the New Zealand coach, never short of a retort, replied.

To catch all the Super Rugby AU action LIVE, purchase a Kayo subscription here.

Pressed on the high stakes match, where only one win separates first and fourth in the race for a top-three finals finish, Penney turned the focus back on McKellar's Brumbies, who suffered their first loss of the competition a fortnight ago to the fourth-placed Melbourne Rebels before having the bye-round last weekend.

"Yeah, we certainly wouldn't be viewing ourselves as world beaters after a couple of wins," Penney said.

"No, we're pretty grounded.

"They are very hot favourites at their home ground and what they've done in the last few years that would be an appropriate status for them."

Indeed the Brumbies are the favourites with the bookies, paying $1.43 to record their third win over the Waratahs in 2020.

It was only a month ago that the Brumbies broke the hearts of the Waratahs in Sydney after replacement halfback Issak Fines scored in the 77th minute to steal a 24-23 win.

That narrow loss was a drastic improvement on what the Waratahs dished up earlier in the season, when the two sides met on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the nation's capital. 

On that afternoon, the Brumbies overran the Waratahs 47-14.

As it turned out, it was the final match of the regular Super Rugby season before COVID-19 forced the suspension of the global tournament.

"Vividly" was how Penney recalled the memory when asked whether he remembered his last trip down the Hume Highway.

"The weather was fantastic."

It was.

The less said about the Waratahs' second half performance the better though.

LISTEN: The day Ewen McKenzie drove a Waratahs bus throughout Canberra to help his side snap their hoodoo. NSW assistant coach Chris Whitaker joins The Rugby Nation Show

In many ways COVID-19 and the start of Australia's own Super Rugby competition saved the Waratahs' season from spiraling out of control.

At the time NSW great Phil Kearns said he didn't see any "light at the end of the tunnel" for the Waratahs after what was their fifth loss from six matches - their worst start to a Super Rugby season in their history. 

Penney, however, says he always remained confident that the they would eventually find their feet.

"I always had faith that the corner would be turned," he said.

"There's a good enough crop of men here, proud men, that that wasn't going to continue.

"Whether COVID came or not, there's been a lot of talk around resetting and stuff, we've just had more time together and there's some good glimpses of what the future of the potential might look like.

"We haven't talked about it (their loss to the Brumbies in Canberra) too much.

"We've played them twice before and they're quality group of people and a good team and they're a good benchmark for us.

"We feel like we're making progress and we were both on the wrong side of the ledger last time and we'll see if we can turn it around."

READ MORE:

KAFER COLUMN: Is it time to change the 'Giteau Law'?

'SUPER SATURDAY': Super Rugby AU to feature double header to close out regular season

NEW ZEALAND: All Blacks coach 'can't wait' for North v South clash

After snapping a year-long back-to-back hoodoo last weekend with victory over the Force, the Waratahs can go a long way to sealing a top three finish by beating the Brumbies on Saturday.

Penney couldn't help but chuckle at the unwanted headlines that followed the win on the Gold Coast.

"It is interesting, we did talk about, normally when you talk about back-to-back you're talking about championships not games," he quipped.

"We had the wee giggle about that fact. A hoodoo of back-to-back wins.

"We've just got to progress, keep progressing and maybe three in a row is within our grasp now."

Penney has kept faith with the same 23 that beat the Force 28-8 last Friday, but promoted Joey Walton at outside centre for Lalakai Foketi and Test forward Ned Hanigan for Tom Staniforth.

Meanwhile, McKellar has made 16 changes in total to his side that lost 30-12 to the Rebels, with nine men dropped in total.

"No, I've never made 16 changes," McKellar said.

"But I don't look at it as 16 changes. I've picked a team to beat the Waratahs this week.

"Changing combinations, that's how externally it might be viewed, but we train together every day of the week. These boys know each other well and it's an exciting team and a good opportunity for a number of boys."

In particular, Test trio Folau Fainga'a, Tevita Kuridrani and Joe Powell have been rested while experienced Wallaby James Slipper and hardman Lachie McCaffrey have been promoted.

Wallaby Nic White makes his return to the Brumbies via the bench, after returning to the club following a five-year hiatus overseas.

McKellar said he wasn't bothered by the "favouritism" tag.

"Ah, yeah, that's for you guys to talk about, we don't really care," a straight-shooting McKellar said.

"We've had a really good seven weeks at the beginning of the year and we've been OK since the start of Super Rugby AU, but there's a real determination for us to take our game to another level."

The Waratahs take on the Brumbies at GIO Stadium on Saturday August 22, kicking off at 7:15pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Foxtel Now and Kayo Sports. Buy tickets here. Buy a Kayo subscription here.