New South Wales Waratahs coach Darren Coleman says his target has now changed after a stunning upset of the Crusaders, with last year’s also rans making a run for a top four place and home final in Super Rugby Pacific.
Coleman’s impact has been heralded by his players in recent days and he has brought belief back big time to the team in blue.
A win over Moana Pasifika at Mount Smart this weekend – by no means an easy task – combined with a third straight Reds defeat against the Highlanders, would see the Waratahs move ahead of the Reds on the table into fifth.
They are four points behind fourth placed Chiefs, and Coleman wasn’t afraid to put a target on the Kiwis when talking to the media on Thursday.
“I thought the Reds and Brumbies were going to clear out at the top after the Australian leg – they both beat us,” Coleman said, adding that if h’s been asked about finishing ahead of the Reds six weeks ago “I would have thought it would be a longshot – but things change pretty quick.”
Coleman admitted his team’s aspirations have changed.
“We’ve recalibrated a little bit,” he said. “My goal at the start of the year was top eight we’re now starting to look up the ladder. Reds and Chiefs are the next ones above us and we look like we’ll be able to catch them.
“It’s a big cliché – game by game – but we haven’t totally dismissed the notion of getting a home final, sneaking into fourth.
“Why not? We’ve got Moana and Highlanders who are both below us on the table and the Canes at home. We’ll go game at a time and dream big hey? We’ve got a shot at it.”
Lest fans think Coleman is getting carried away with the defeat of the Crusaders, he moved to stamp out complacency by saying he thought the Moana match was a bigger challenge than hosting the Kiwi giants last weekend.
“The emotional get up for the Crusaders, I found, was pretty easy,” said Coleman.
“Getting that home crowd, what we’re trying to build at home, trying to build that fan engagement, that Waratah brand – that’s easy to sell that.
“I’ve got a feeling there’ll be a big crowd of Pasifika fans at Mt Smart Stadium so we’ve got to keep those fans quiet.”
Coleman said the key to dampening Moana’s spirit was keeping them away from the Tahs defensive zone.
“The closer they get to your try line, the harder they run,” Coleman said.
“So we’ve got to play good field position and keep the emotional energy away from them.”
Coleman, meanwhile said he expected Michael Hooper to return for next week’s match against the Hurricanes after concussion, with Will Harris replacing the Wallabies skipper.
“So we get a bit more of a power runner down the edges with Will and we get an additional lineout jumper,” Coleman said.
“Which this week is handy because we want to get at their lineout so, yeah, pros and cons.”
Coleman also explained his reasons for leaving Mahe Vailanu out of the squad after a strong game deputising for Dave Porecki and Tom Horton as hooker last week.
“There were a few things that went into that decision – Mahe was outstanding and we’re not doubting that,” said Coleman.
“I reckon he will feature a lot more in the next three games. It was probably more around he was so up for that game – there was an emotional and psychical toll on him. He played 74 minutes. he ran completely out of gas, missed the tackle that led to the last try.
“He was literally lying on the ground, we had to carry him off. He was pretty sore Monday, Tuesday.”
Meanwhile, Coleman said he had yet to have discussions with former Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu about a potential return to the club after he was let go by French team Stade Francais.
“We’re just working through that,” Coleman said. “We’ve got Dave and Mahe on contract for next year and we’re looking at our options around guys in academy and overseas. There’s nothing official. I haven’t even had a conversation with Tolu yet so you’d think that’s a fair way off, if we haven’t chatted yet.”