The sting of a last round disappointment will be enough to get their heads right for a sudden-death quarter-final against the Highlanders next weekend.
A win would have secured the Waratahs second spot on the Super Rugby ladder and two weeks of home finals but a 40-31 defeat opened the door for South Africa’s Lions to push NSW down a peg with a win over the Bulls.
They won’t have any space for error or getting ahead of themselves in next week’s quarter-final and backs coach Chris Malone said the disappointment being felt on Sunday would spark them into action for the playoffs.
“I think every one of our players, all of us, woke up this morning disappointed with the performance last night and I think that in itself will be a catalyst for ensuring we get everything right this week,” he said.
“We set out at the start of the year to be conference champions, and we’ve done that, we set out to have a home quarter-final and we’ve done that, and we set out to realise our potential and at points (during the season) we have,” he said.
“We know last night we didn’t but we definitely know we have the potential in this team to do very well.”
Their loss to the Brumbies makes the Waratahs’ road to the finals that much tougher – only two teams have won the title from outside the top two since Super Rugby’s 1996 inception.
Malone said any contemplation of that, though, would only lead to a repeat of Saturday night’s loss.
“I think we were guilty last night of maybe thinking about the quarter-final rather than the last game of the regular season,” he said.
“If you don’t win the quarter-final, there’s no point thinking about anything.
“Then we just see how it plays out. Against the Crusaders this year we scored a heap of points and we should’ve won the game.
“On the road, we haven’t struggled to be in games. Therefore I don’t think it really matters, but we can’t even worry about it.”
To make it to the final four, the Waratahs will have to jump out of the blocks, something they have struggled to do in recent weeks.
The first 20 minutes has been their most barren in terms of tries this season, though they come home strong, and Malone said he was confident they would be ready to go from the first whistle next weekend.
“There’s been a couple of matches this year where we haven’t started like a house on fire,” he said.
“We had a few games where we were really good out of the blocks and a couple of games now where we’ve been a little bit slow out of the blocks.
“Last night we had a three-on-two on the edge and if we just go through the hands we could have scored.
“Instead (Tom) Banks goes 70 metres and scores down the other end so the margins are pretty fine.”
The Waratahs beat the Highlanders comfortably in Sydney earlier this year, but the Dunedin side played most of the match a man down after a red card was dished out to Tevita Nabura for a kick to Cam Clark’s face.
The Waratahs take on the Highlanders in their quarter-final next Saturday night at 8pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.
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