NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is happy rather than insulted some pundits rate the Crusaders as favourites over his red-hot side heading into Saturday’s Super Rugby final.
Cheika on Tuesday named an unchanged starting side for the game at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, which has already drawn ticket sales of more than 38,000.
While bookmakers on both sides of the Tasman have the Waratahs as marginal favourites, plenty of chatter from New Zealand suggests the seven-time title winning Crusaders should enjoy that status.
“I would have expected that’s how they would have thought,” Cheika said on Tuesday.
“I suppose probably part of our history has tended them to lead to that conclusion, that we won’t deliver on the day.
“But I suppose we’ve been told now for a while.
“Everyone thought we’d fall over at some stage.
“We’ll just go out there and play as we have all season, the best we possibly can.
“We’ll try and play really attacking footy and see if we can give them some trouble.”
Asked if he was insulted a team riding a eight-match unbeaten run and home advantage could be considered an underdog, an ebullient Cheika said “usually we’re trying to play for that status, they are just giving it to us perfectly.
“We don’t even have to worry about it, we don’t even have to fight for it.
“I’m not insulted. They are the ones who have been in the finals the last 11 years or whatever.”
Cheika doubted the Crusaders would be haunted by any demons by not having added to their record tally of titles since 2008, having lost in a semi-final or final every subsequent year.
“I doubt it very highly, you get a certain air of confidence when you are continually in the finals,” Cheika said.
NSW lost both their previous finals away to the Crusaders, but Cheika didn’t intend broaching that subject with his players.
“I don’t think so, what’s the relevance?” Cheika said.
“It’s not even worth addressing last week at this stage because that’s over.
“You’ve got to stop taking the pats on the back and reading all the good things, even though they are nice.
“Just focus on the challenge that’s going to come up on Saturday night.”
Cheika had some simple advice for any of his players tasked with tackling giant Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo on Saturday.
“You’ve just got to put your hiking boots on and try and get in there and hang on,” Cheika said.
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Alofa Alofa, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (capt), Stephen Hoiles, Jacques Potgieter, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Res: Tola Latu, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Will Skelton, Mitch Chapman, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbon, Matt Carraro, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Peter Betham (two to be omitted).