In addition to a classy backline and a serviceable forward pack, coach Michael Cheika revealed after the emphatic 39-8 win over the ACT Brumbies that his team also have a long memory, hold grudges over perceived slights and are diligent about monitoring social media.
A throwaway line posted by a Brumbies fitness coach on Twitter in March was used as a catalyst to dismantling the Canberra side at Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday.
“BRUMBIES!!! ANOTHER case of hard work beating talent when talent WON’T work hard,” the ACT side’s former strength and conditioning coach Dean Benton tweeted after a 28-23 win in Canberra.
The line went largely unnoticed at the time but Cheika, a ready user of motivational props, pulled it out during the week to spur his players.
“We certainly used that … as a challenge on our integrity,” he said after the five-try rout, which helped the Waratahs seal top spot in the Australian conference with two rounds to spare and take a guaranteed berth in the playoffs.
“That’s something we want to be proud of this year and it was something that really motivated us.”
However successful the motivating tool, hard work never really came into it against the Brumbies, who were missing much of their first choice side due to injury and lost Wallabies centre Tevita Kuridrani to a head-knock early in the game.
The Waratahs also suffered a big casualty in captain Dave Dennis, who was taken from the field with a serious knee injury and will miss the rest of the season, he confirmed on Twitter.
New Wallabies captain Michael Hooper is likely to lead the side for the remainder of the campaign, which starts with a big test at home next week against the Otago Highlanders.
The Highlanders quietly appeared as contenders to win the New Zealand conference with Friday’s rousing home victory over the double-defending champion Chiefs.
Coming off an annus horribilus, when they managed just three wins and finished second-last, the Dunedin-based team’s turnaround has been little short of spectacular.
One win in their last two games, the final fixture a daunting away clash against the seven-time champion Crusaders, should be enough to sew up a top six spot and a ticket to the playoffs.
“We’ve achieved a lot in one season anyway. This wasn’t one of those ‘if we win it will be a bonus’ type of speeches,” Jamie Joseph told New Zealand media. “These players have got some magic desire to keep on kicking on.”
The Hurricanes also proved they have the desire in their 16-9 upset of the third-placed Crusaders, despite knowing their backs-to-the-wall efforts may ultimately be in vain.
Clinging to fifth in the competition on 41 points, the Hurricanes have a bye in the last round and can only gain points next week in Hamilton against the ninth-placed Chiefs, who will themselves be desperate to keep their playoffs hopes alive.
“There is huge satisfaction we’re still in the competition. That’s the big thing, it didn’t matter if it was the Crusaders, the Force or a South African side,” a proud Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett told reporters.
“We needed to win to stay alive, so this game was huge for us.”
Two other sides outside the top six remain in the playoffs hunt in the Western Force and, improbably, the Auckland Blues.
Long written off, the Blues’ 40-14 thrashing of the Force in Perth tore up the script and took the Australian Cinderella team’s hopes of a maiden postseason out of their hands.
Both will need to win their last two games and hope other results go their way to have a chance of snatching a place in the top six.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Amlan Chakraborty)