Waratahs prepare for 'war'
Sydney - Wales Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is preparing his players for nothing short of a battle when they meet the Crusaders in a crunch Super Rugby clash at Sydney's Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
A re-match of last year's Super Rugby final at the same venue, which the Waratahs clinched courtesy of Bernard Foley's late penalty, the match has major repercussions for the playoff hopes of both teams.
The Waratahs are in the sixth and final playoff spot with four rounds of the regular season remaining, while the seven-times champion Crusaders are ninth and facing the prospect of missing out on post-season play for the first time since 2001.
A bonus point win for Todd Blackadder's All Black-studded side on Saturday, though, could bring them level with the reigning champions on 36 points.
"It's going to be a war zone this weekend that's for sure," Cheika told reporters in Sydney.
"It's going to be a real battlefield. I really think they are a fine team and they will be coming off a bye, fresh."
The Waratahs rebounded from an upset at the hands of the Force to beat the Sharks on home soil last Saturday but the 33-18 scoreline disguised a scrappy win by a side that has not hit the heights they achieved last year.
A major factor in their 2014 success was physicality at the breakdown and, despite being without hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and possibly the hulking Jacques Potgieter, Cheika knows his pack will have to match fire with fire up front on Saturday.
"The urgency in the rucks is going to be key," Cheika added. "I think they will come hard at us in the rucks and we're really looking forward to the physicality of the game and the challenge it's going to bring.
"It's going to be tight but at the same time open, because they like to spread the ball, as do we."
The Crusaders have a built a reputation over the years for hitting their straps at the business end of the season and doled out an eight try, 58-17 humbling of the Reds two weeks ago.
With no room for a slip-up in their final four matches, however, the Crusaders will have to build the same sort of defiant spirit that got them to the 2011 final despite the Christchurch earthquake destroying their home ground.
"With the quality and calibre of the guys we've got, we have got some big game players there, so it's about time everyone stood up and we're going to have to, collectively," Blackadder told the New Zealand Herald.