Forget Israel Folau and NSW’s self-proclaimed “world-class backline”, it’s the Waratahs’ unsung forward pack that the Blues fear most as the in-form Aucklanders chase a fourth straight Super Rugby win on Saturday.
The Tahs’ task has been made all the more challenging with coach Daryl Gibson resting inspirational captain and flanker Michael Hooper.
But the Blues are refusing to underestimate the 2018 Australian conference winners as they brace for a bruising encounter with the Waratahs pack.
“Whatever team they put out there, they’re going to be really strong,” said Blues coach Leon McDonald.
“Israel Folau’s a big threat and (Bernard) Foley, when he’s on top of his game, can control a game well, but probably more impressive is the way their forwards have gone about their work.
“They’ve been really physical, especially the loose forwards and the second row – they’ve been really dominant so we’re expecting a really tough battle.”
Veteran centre Adam Ashley-Cooper has endured more pain at Eden Park than most Waratahs and admits there’ll be no lack of motivation from the visitors to record a hoodoo-busting win, especially after the insipid display against the Sunwolves.
“I think everyone wants to respond well after a loss,” he said.
“It’s an awesome place to play; great stadium, great facility and against a great team.
“They play a pretty similar game to us where they like to hold onto the ball and throw it from edge to edge – and they’re a persistent team so we’re going to be tested in a number of areas this week.”
A frustrated observer last week after being rested, Ashley-Cooper is relishing the opportunity to again showcase his World Cup credentials when he reunites with Karmichael Hunt in the Waratahs midfield.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting to be rotated to be this year. I thought I’d have to come back and play a full Super Rugby season to prove that I’m capable enough to be in that World Cup squad,” he said.
“So it’s a nice surprise but moving forward I still want to play as much football as I can this year and keep growing my game, putting myself in the best shape to play good football and be in that World Cup squad.”
The Short Ball – Nobody plays the referee quite like the Crusaders do
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now