SYDNEY, April 9 – The New South Wales Waratahs will pit their unbeaten 11-match home run against South African opposition in Saturday's Super 14 joust with the Northern Bulls.
The Sydney team lie third on 27 points behind tournament leaders Coastal Sharks (30) and can put at least an eight-point gap on the fourth-placed Pretoria Bulls if they continue their imposing home form.
Last Saturday’s no-frills 12-6 win over the Western Stormers was the 11th consecutive success at home for the Waratahs, eclipsing the 10-straight achieved by the Brumbies from 1996 to 1998 in Canberra.
It was also their 25th win in 31 home matches against South African opposition in Super Rugby.
While the Waratahs may be Australia’s leading contenders for the Super 14 title, they have been criticised for their lack of tries, with 17 in eight games.
But skipper Phil Waugh insists his team’s priority is winning, not entertaining the fans.
"You’ve just got to win the games," Waugh said. "At the end of a competition, you think we could have picked up bonus points here and there. But if you go into a game, you go in to win it."
The Bulls, who have 18 tries from one match less, welcome back winger Bryan Habana, a former World Player of the Year, and lineout general Victor Matfield as they bid to end a run of two losses on the road in New Zealand.
Coach Frans Ludeke believes the encounter will be similar to Test match intensity from two similar-style teams.
"It is going to be all about getting our basics right and whenever we do something, we have to make sure our execution is 100 percent," Ludeke said.
"Both teams are going to play for field position and from there on it is all about seizing the scoring opportunities when they come your way."
Coach John Plumtree wants his front-running Sharks to maintain their winning momentum against the winless Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Although the Cheetahs are isolated on the bottom of the standings with just two points, they have a history of troubling the Sharks, both in domestic and Super Rugby.
The Cheetahs came from 20-10 down at halftime to edge the Sharks 27-26 three years ago, and then led 14-13 at the mid-point of the corresponding game two years ago before being run over in the second half.
"The Cheetahs have been a real bogey team for the Sharks over the years and we know they’ll be looking forward to us visiting there this weekend," Plumtree said.
"We’re really holding out for the bye at the moment," he said.
"It will be great for us, especially with so many of our players being injured, and hopefully after the bye (in two weeks) we can get some of them back and have some reinforcements."
The free-scoring Waikato Chiefs and the Canterbury Crusaders have this weekend off, but the Chiefs may still be able to hold on to second place, depending on the results of their closest pursuers.
The ACT Brumbies will have an emotionally difficult match on Saturday, against the tough-to-beat Stormers in Canberra, following the death of their lock Shawn Mackay in South Africa.
Mackay, 26, suffered a cardiac arrest last Monday after being critically injured when he was hit by a car outside a Durban nightclub.
His death has shattered the Brumbies, and coach Andy Friend will have the task of lifting his players for the game.
"Life does go on and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing what Macca would have wanted us to do, which is play on and beat the Stormers this weekend," Friend said.
The Auckland Blues are home to South Africa’s Golden Lions on Friday, the Wellington Hurricanes play the Western Force in Perth on Friday and the Otago Highlanders host the Queensland Reds in Invercargill on Saturday.