Table-topping Waratahs staying cool

NSW coach Michael Cheika is demanding business as usual from the Waratahs on their seemingly relentless march to a maiden Super Rugby minor premiership and lucrative home final.


The Waratahs will be without captain Dave Dennis for the rest of their campaign after the flanker suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Saturday night’s 39-8 demolition of the Brumbies.

But even in Dennis’ absence, the Waratahs blew the injury-hit Brumbies off the park to romp to a club-record-equalling fifth straight win.

Perched atop the ladder and with a finals spot assured, the rampant Tahs can clinch their first-ever minor premiership with victory over the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium next Sunday if the Cheetahs upset the second-placed Sharks in Bloemfontein.

Even if the Sharks win, the Waratahs will retain the whip hand and inside running to host the August 2 title match if they preserve their unbeaten home record in 2014.

The grand final hosts have won 14 of the 18 Super titles since 1996.

Cheika, though, is refusing to look beyond next week.

The tough task master said “you don’t have to be a genius” to realise one slip-up – either against the fourth-placed Highlanders or in their final-round trip to Queensland to face the Reds – could bring the Waratahs unstuck.

“I don’t mean to be a smart Alec but when things happen we’ll look at it then,” Cheika said.

“If you’re honest and real, you’ll say: `Well, nothing’s doing yet’.

“When you’ve actually done something, then you can maybe enjoy the hype for a minute.

“But we’re nowhere yet.”

Dennis had scans on Sunday after leaving ANZ Stadium on crutches following a tackle gone wrong on Brumbies winger Henry Speight.

The 28-year-old, who has already had two knee reconstructions, confirmed via Twitter that his season was over due to the knee injury.

“Unfortunately my season is over @NSWWaratahs. Tough news to take. Thanks for all the support. Will make it back!” tweeted Dennis.

Cheika will likely shift classy South African import Jacques Potgieter to blindside flanker against the Highlanders and start new Wallabies sensation Will Skelton in the second row alongside Kane Douglas.

But the coach will also consider the left-field possibility of drafting in veteran lock Mitch Chapman, a better lineout option than Skelton.

The Waratahs’ clash with the Highlanders is one just one of several showdowns featuring finals aspirants.

Ten sides remain in the playoff hunt entering the penultimate round, with only NSW and the Sharks guaranteed a finals berth.

Five teams are battling it out for New Zealand conference honours after the Blues stayed alive with a crushing 40-14 win over the seventh-placed Western Force in Perth on Saturday night.

The third-placed Crusaders, who lost 16-9 to the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday, have another chance to seal a finals spot when they host the eighth-placed Blues in Christchurch.

The ninth-placed Chiefs must beat the fifth-placed Hurricanes in Hamilton to keep their title defence alive.

The Force play the Reds in Perth, knowing derby success will set up a likely winner-takes-all last-round match-up in Canberra with the Brumbies, who have the bye.