The Waratahs will treat their showdown with the Highlanders as if it’s their last of the Super Rugby season, ensuring their focus is on farewelling Sekope Kepu and Nick Phipps in style.
Qualifying for the playoffs is still a slim possibility for the New South Welshmen but they’d need to secure a bonus point win in Friday’s final-round match at soggy Invercargill and then hope other results fall their way.
Just securing a win without five resting Wallabies will be a steep enough task for a team that has stumbled throughout 2019.
Forward Ned Hanigan betrayed the team’s realistic ambitions when talking to reporters on Thursday, referring to a desire to finish the season on a high.
“It’s been ups and downs for us throughout the year and there’s a few guys playing their last game over there,” he said.
“(Let’s) send them off on a high and finish this season off the way we should.”
Hanigan was keenest to put in a big shift for veteran prop Kepu and captain for the day Phipps, who are both bound for English club London Irish after the World Cup.
“When I first game in, they were the guys who greeted you with open arms,” Hanigan said.
“Keps is one of the best props in the world and it’s sad to see him go. It’s the same with Fang (Phipps), he’s just energy the whole game.
“So both those players, I’m mates with them off the field and on the field they’re always by your side.”
Hanigan said there was a determination among some of the lesser-used players introduced this week to prove themselves and enhance their chances of winning fresh contracts for next year.
While conditions are expected to be challenging, the Waratahs produced one of their best displays of the season when they beat the top-qualifying Crusaders in the wet of Sydney nearly three months ago.
The Highlanders, who are also fringe finals contenders, won’t appreciate the heavy going either, having become accustomed to the pristine conditions of playing under the roof of their home base of Dunedin.
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