The Canterbury Crusaders, the table-topping and two-time defending Super Rugby champions, played eighth-placed and 2015 Super Rugby champions Otago Highlanders in Christchurch, where the home side hadn’t lost a game since last year.
The Highlanders want their old turnover skills back if they are to avoid being swamped by the Waratahs in their Super Rugby quarter-final.
A classic attack versus counter-attack battle looms in Sydney on Saturday, with the visitors acknowledging they could face a long night at the office if they don’t tidy up their defence.
The Kiwi side has conceded 127 points in their last three games.
Heavy losses to the Chiefs and Crusaders after the June international break were followed by last week’s thrilling 43-37 defeat of the Melbourne Rebels.
The same leaks will be pounced on by a Waratahs side whose 557 points scored leads Super Rugby in 2018.
Outside backs Israel Folau, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Curis Rona are all among the top 10 players for clean breaks.
On the flip side, the Highlanders have made – and missed – considerably more tackles than any team, often happy to kick away possession and rely on counter-attacking strike off turnovers.
Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody noted the turnovers have dried up in recent weeks.
“Teams have been able to hold that ball and we haven’t been able to get it back as fast as we would like,” he told AAP.
“Potentially later in games, tiredness can then have an effect especially against the calibre of teams we’ve come up against. They’re either teams in the play-offs or trying to get there and attacks have sharpened right up.”
Highlanders forwards Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt and Tom Franklin are the three most prolific tacklers in Super Rugby this season.
All three were rested from the starting side against the Rebels and will be refreshed for Sydney, along with key All Blacks backs Ben and Aaron Smith.
Dermody says a vast improvement is needed against a Waratahs team who overwhelmed them 41-12 two months ago in the match which broke Australia’s long winless drought in trans-Tasman matches.
“The Waratahs are by far the best team in Australia,” Dermody said.
“They’ve got attacking threats all over. The good thing is we understand what we’re coming up against.”