NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika says his side have not proven anything until they stand up to last year’s Super Rugby grand finalists the Brumbies.
Despite a surge to the top of the ladder with back-to-back bonus-point wins to start the season, Cheika is adamant his side are still ‘‘at the bottom of the mountain’’.
The Waratahs have raised hopes and fallen short repeatedly over the years, but there’s reason to believe things can be different in 2014 with Israel Folau proving to be in unstoppable form.
NSW’s stocks rose dramatically with a 32-5 thumping of Queensland on Saturday night, the Waratahs’ biggest win over the Reds in Super Rugby.
Another small crowd might have greeted the Waratahs onto ANZ Stadium, but Cheika knows excitement and expectation will start to build around his team after they broke a five-match hoodoo against Australian heavyweights Queensland.
The Waratahs can enjoy the bye this weekend before they head to Canberra for another critical clash against the Brumbies, who bounced back from a first-up loss to score a 27-14 win over the Western Force on Saturday.
In the corresponding match last season, the Waratahs were given a hiding in Canberra.
Cheika is confident his troops won’t get ahead of themselves.
‘‘I don’t know if we’re frontrunners. We only just jumped out of the barriers,’’ he said.
‘‘What’s going to happen now is obviously there’s going to be a lot of talk about the win and everything like that. We just need to stay level and understand that we’re at the bottom of the mountain.
‘‘We don’t need anything else to sharpen our focus than think back to last year when we got tonked by the Brumbies.’’
NSW aren’t the only Australian franchise to make an eye-catching start – the Melbourne Rebels blew away Bloemfontein’s Cheetahs 35-14 on Friday at AAMI Park.
If the Rebels, under new coach Tony McGahan, can hand the Force a third straight defeat in Perth next week and score four tries in doing so, they will join the Waratahs at the top of the Australian conference.
Halfback Luke Burgess put his hand up for a Wallabies return with a sterling performance for the Rebels, but McGahan said his side’s biggest test was to come.
‘‘We need to get some consistency and string together back-to-back results like the other sides are,’’ McGahan said. ‘‘We’ve got to continue the hard work. We’ve dipped our toe in the water, but we’re going to face different strengths every week and we’re going to have to be able to adapt.’’
Queensland will look to pick up the pieces against the Cheetahs in Brisbane on Friday, and the Brumbies face a trip to Wellington to face the Hurricanes.
In good news for Stephen Larkham’s Brumbies side, it appears centre Pat McCabe could be on deck after he was cleared of a potentially serious neck injury suffered in Saturday’s win.
Wallabies star David Pocock has a chance to play after medical checks indicated that he didn’t have a serious knee problem.
The Force were also given good news when Hugh McMeniman was cleared of serious neck problems.
Defending premiers the Chiefs lead the New Zealand conference after beating the Dunedin-based Highlanders.
The South African conference, led by the Durban-based Sharks, evened out with victory to the Cape Town-based Stormers over the Hurricanes and the Pretoria-based Bulls over the Lions.AAP
DOUBLE: Israel Folau goes in for a try on Saturday. Picture: Getty Images