The New South Wales Waratahs know exactly what they need to do if they want to be certain of extending their Super Rugby AU season beyond Saturday night — beat the Melbourne Rebels by more than seven points and earn a bonus point.
The 2014 Super Rugby champions have a bye in the final round of the regular season so Saturday’s clash at Leichhardt Oval will probably be their last if they cannot move six points clear of the Rebels in the third and final playoff spot.
The task may be clear but it does not promise to be simple for a team that was soundly beaten by the Rebels last month and again by the tournament-leading ACT Brumbies last weekend.
“We’re masters of our own destiny this weekend,” coach Rob Penney told reporters on Thursday.
“If we’re good enough this weekend we’ll be (in the playoffs). If we’re not, we won’t be. Simple as that.”
Penney will be without the most experienced member of his backline as centre Karmichael Hunt misses a second successive match with a hamstring problem.
Inspirational flanker Michael Hooper, though, should be super motivated as he looks to extend his farewell before departing for a lucrative sabbatical at the Steve Hansen-mentored Toyota Verblitz club in Japan.
The Rebels have never qualified for post-season play in their nine seasons in Super Rugby and coach Dave Wessels said the team were excited about the opportunity to lock up a playoff spot before their final match against the Western Force.
The squad have been on the road for more than two months after evacuating Melbourne ahead of a second wave of COVID-19 cases and Wessels said the players were drawing inspiration from representing the locked-down city.
“These are the games you want to play and be a part of and everyone’s just really excited for that,” he told reporters.
“With everything that’s happening in Victoria and wanting to play for those people, it’s a real motivator for us.”
The Brumbies will lock up top spot in the standings and a place in the Sept. 19 playoff final if they beat the Force on Friday at Canberra Stadium.