Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Changing tack tough for Tahs

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Stephen Hoiles of the Waratahs. Photo / Getty Images
Stephen Hoiles of the Waratahs. Photo / Getty Images

Why the inquiry, surely it's superfluous? Why would the Waratahs alter an adventurous playing pattern that has vaulted them to the top of the Super Rugby series?

There are a number of reasons that will have filtered into the Tahs' perception as the semifinal approaches.

They have not won a title since the series began in 1996 and there will be more tension at the thought of creating history. As the All Blacks showed when they wobbled to their 2011 World Cup win, pressure tightens when a favoured team is not quite in the zone.

Sudden-death rugby invariably brings anxiety about failure which tends to tighten players' ambition and nerve.

There are no bonus points for flair or four tries in these matches, the only category which counts is the results column.

The Tahs have sauntered through pool play where mistakes were accepted as part of the style coach Michael Cheika wanted to instil in his team. On that journey they lost four pool games against the Sharks, Brumbies, Stormers and Blues.

Those defeats came when they conceded set-piece ball, shed Israel Folau to a throat injury and were rattled by an inspired Blues performance.

Cheika plugged on with his plans as much for the fact that entertaining Tahs rugby was a boost in the TV ratings and spectator wars as it was an effective use of his troops.

His pack has size and athletic crunch topped by a backline which has added another level to their precision this season. When halfback Nick Phipps and five-eighth Bernard Foley make the right plays, much of the sizzle comes from Kurtley Beale and Folau.

On their day, the Tahs have all the ingredients to take out the Super Rugby title.

The Brumbies accept that but have banked a victory against them this year. It was in Canberra when the Brumbies jumped out to a huge lead and then held on with a man in the bin as Folau led the Tahs' valiant comeback.

Shades of last weekend when the Brumbies tracked a similar route to hold out the Chiefs.

The Tahs have current form and a growing State-wide enthusiasm about their chances to celebrate but the Brumbies have the history of two titles and four runners-up medals including that ranking last season.

Captain Ben Mowen felt their quarterfinal victory against the Chiefs was their best work in three seasons and had given them the concentrated focus for tomorrow. They are also buoyed about the short trip to Sydney instead of heading to South Africa or New Zealand.

"You've got two really in-form sides going up against each other," Mowen said.

"We've won a game apiece this year, so it's essentially a decider."

Those who peddle statistics will point to problems for the Brumbies with their scrum, turnover and goal-kicking (the least effective in the series) figures which are balanced by having the best ruck and second best lineout.

Danger from the Waratahs comes from making nearly 10 clean breaks every game while five-eighth Foley with 213 points has nearly doubled the tally from Nic White who leads the Brumbies chart.

Folau has 12 of the 55 tries scored this season by the Tahs while they have conceded only 24 as the Brumbies have picked up 53 tries and yielded 39.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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