Waratahs, Rebels set for finals-like Super Rugby clash
The NSW Waratahs are plotting to reclaim the Weary Dunlop Shield and kill off a Super Rugby Pacific finals rival in one fell swoop with a pivotal victory over the Melbourne Rebels.
The sixth-placed Waratahs host ninth-placed Melbourne on Saturday night eyeing revenge and knowing they have a huge opportunity to all but eliminate the Rebels as a quarter-final threat.
The Tahs are already six competition points clear of the Rebels and could open up an 11-point gap with only three rounds remaining before the playoffs.
"These games are almost double points. If we can pick up four points or five, whatever we can get tomorrow night, it's really important," Waratahs captain Jake Gordon said on Friday.
"It's coming towards the end of the year now and these games are really important. Melbourne are obviously searching for a finals spot and so are we.
"You can see a bit of a gap between the top-six teams and the bottom six so what's important is we start gaining some confidence to start chasing those top sides.
"We feel like we're in a better spot than we were at the start of the year but we need to back that up."
That start of the year included a 34-27 defeat to the Rebels in Melbourne that sparked a four-game losing run that put the Waratahs on the back foot.
Darren Coleman's side have been playing catch-up ever since and enter the return bout at Allianz Stadium hunting three successive wins for the first time this campaign.
"We were probably a little bit disappointed with what happened down in Melbourne," Gordon said.
"We started the game really well and had two tries disallowed and then couldn't get ourselves back in the game.
"So kudos to them, they were awesome that night.
"We're still searching for that 80-minute performance. We've been talking about that quite a bit and hopefully tomorrow night will bring that."
Rebels skipper Brad Wilkin has returned home to Sydney to face his old side knowing it's a must-win game but trying not to add to the pressure by declaring it as such.
"Every game is critical at the moment. We can only take it one game at a time and look to get the win and retain the Weary Dunlop Shield," he said.
The flanker admitted he was personally extra motivated going head to head with former Wallabies captain and four-times John Eales Medallist Michael Hooper in a key breakdown battle.
"Hoops is such a good player and leader and someone I've looked up to," Wilkin said.
"So to go up against one of the best in his position any player would be excited and get up for that."