Tue 8 Apr 2014 | 08:49
Tahs know value of victory in Perth
Tue 8 Apr 2014 | 08:49
Tahs know value of victory in PerthSHARE
In a tightly congested Australian conference, the Waratahs are aware of the importance of bursting the Western Force's bubble when they meet in their Round Nine Super Rugby derby in Perth on Saturday.
Approaching the halfway point of the competition, three Australian sides are positioned in the overall top five, with the Brumbies (21 log points) one point ahead of the Waratahs (20 log points), the Force another two points back (18 log points) and the Queensland Reds still well in the mix for a finals berth, sitting on 15 log points.
The definition "eight-point" match springs to mind when looking at this fixture as the fourth-placed overall Waratahs, fresh off a 22-11 win over the Stormers in Cape Town, can either open up a potentially decisive gap over the Force in the Australian conference or get passed by the in-form Perth-based side.
The fifth-place Force will come into the game off the back of four wins in a row for the first time in their history, having impressively beaten the Reds (32-29), Chiefs (18-15), Highalnders (31-29) and Rebels (32-7) in recent weeks.
If the Reds beat the Brumbies at home in Brisbane on Friday, it means that the winner in Perth could well go to the top of the Australian Conference, which emphahsises the importance of the clash.
Away wins are a rare commodity in 2014 and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika admits a victory over the Force in Perth would be priceless.
"Obviously it's an important game in the bigger picture of the comp, that's for sure," Cheika told AAP.
"It's an away game and they have been so hard to win – across the board for any team – so if we can take a home game off one of our conference challengers, then it puts you in a good position.
"But we're very aware they're a team that's been on a roll and firing on all cylinders.
"It's going to be very difficult but the lads are feeling good and they're up for the challenge."
The Force have only beaten the Waratahs twice in 12 games, and both wins were in Sydney, but even after his side beat them 43-21 in their opening game this year, Cheika sensed they were in for a good year.
While the Force have never beaten the Waratahs in Perth, there is a history of some closely-contested games there, with the Sydney-based side winning 23-18 in 2012, 14-10 in 2010 and 17-12 in 2008, and Chieka says that his side will need to be on high alert to stop the threat that the Force will pose.
"It doesn't surprise me at all now to see them winning because they've got a good team with x-factor players, guys who can make a break, score tries and create something out of nothing," he said.
"They've got a bit of edge around their forward pack and they work hard.
"They'll always have a good set piece with Michael Foley as coach, so they've got the basis there of a very successful formula."
Cheika is once again hopeful that his star fullback Israel Folau will return this weekend after missing both matches in South Africa with a throat injury.
"He'll train today [Tuesday].
"He's just got to get through his contact work well and he should be okay," Chieka added.
Against the Force, the Waratahs will be without another Wallaby star after eighthman Wycliff Palu returned to Sydney on Tuesday for further treatment for an ankle injury.