The 'Tahs and Crusaders bring the curtain down on Round 10 when the two sides go head-to-head in a rare Sunday fixture in Sydney.
The Waratahs and Crusaders bring the curtain down on Round Ten when the two teams go head-to-head in a rare Sunday fixture in Sydney.
After a lumbering start, a playing personnel overhaul and doubtless a few choice words rattling the dressing-room windows have got the Waratahs back on track in this Super Rugby campaign.
In truth, the 30-13 capitulation to the Chiefs a month or so ago is probably the most indicative result of where the 'Tahs stand in the pecking order: some way short of the complete product.
They are capable of attacking excellence, but the defence has been leakier than a stampede of incontinent camels at crucial times and this has really been their undoing: an inability to close out the tight games. How different things might have been had they managed to beat the Highlanders, Force and Reds earlier in the season.
Each time though, the pressure was too much. Against the Crusaders, if you can't handle pressure, you've got a problem.
The Waratahs now are at the stage where injuries begin to bite, but desperately need to string together some wins to make the playoffs. On Wednesday most of the backs ran at least two different positions (in Adam Ashley-Cooper's case, three). Rob Horne's suspension adds to an injury list including Chris Alcock and Bernard Foley, as well as long-term casualties Lachie Turner, Drew Mitchell, Dan Vickerman and Ben McCutcheon.
Another team to have started a little iffy, the Cantabrians are beginning to motor. If early season defeats to the Highlanders and Chiefs bore doubts over a new-look team's ability to step up, the recent wins over the Stormers and Hurricanes have erased them.
There's little doubt the return of Dan Carter – even if only mentoring the development of new pivot Tom Taylor from twelve – has galvanised the side and helped unleash brothers-in-arms Zac Guildford and Israel Dagg, but even without that boost the pack is looking a little more cohesive now, a little more intelligent in terms of discipline and management, a little more uncompromising.
And there's the rub really. between two teams reasonably well matched there isn't a great deal to choose. But who would you back in a tight game between these two? There's only one answer to that really…
Prediction: The Crusaders to close it out and win by six.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Tom Marshall.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)