SYDNEY (Reuters) - It is fair to say that the Super Rugby campaign has not panned out as planned for the New South Wales Waratahs but they are determined to make a success of it and face what could be a season-defining match against the Jaguares this weekend.
The protracted dismissal of fullback Israel Folau has been the main distraction but they have also had to contend with being homeless and for the next two weeks will be without hooker Tolu Latu after he was arrested on a drink-driving charge.
The 2014 champions will look to put all their troubles aside when they face the high-flying Argentines on Saturday at the new Western Sydney Stadium, one of four temporary home grounds they are using while their Sydney Football Stadium is rebuilt.
It won’t be easy, though, as the Jaguares come into the match on the back of five wins out of their last six matches, including impressive road victories against the Bulls, Sharks and Wellington Hurricanes.
No wonder then that Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has decided against resting any of his remaining Wallabies, as he is required to do at some stage under protocols designed to prevent burnout for test players ahead of this year’s World Cup.
“We’ve got to keep performing and playing and coming out the right side with a result, we are in the fight for our lives in terms of staying alive in the competition and the conference,” Gibson said.
“This game is incredibly important and we need to pick our best side.”
Fortunately for the Waratahs, it has been a less than stellar year for the other Australian teams so their 5-7 record puts them only three points off the top of the conference, a position that would guarantee them a playoff spot.
A loss to the Jaguares would be an all but fatal setback to those ambitions, though, and if their own matchday squad is laden with Wallabies, Saturday’s visitors are essentially a ghost Argentina team.
“I don’t think there’ll be many players out there that haven’t played for (Argentina),” lock Rob Simmons told reporters on Friday. “They’re basically a test team and that’s how we have to play.”
If there have been some real highs in the Waratahs season — not least inflicting a first defeat in a year on the defending champion Canterbury Crusaders — last week’s scrappy victory over the Queensland Reds was probably not one of them.
“The main thing was just getting that win,” Simmons added, reflecting the do-or-die attitude of the team. “There was some ugly stuff but there was some good stuff too.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty