If the NSW Waratahs want to be a force come the Super Rugby finals, they need to start winning on the road – with or without key attacking weapon Israel Folau.
That’s the blunt assessment from Tahs No.7 Michael Hooper, who’s targeting Sunday morning’s (AEDT) clash against the Stormers in Cape Town as his side’s 2014 turning point.
The fifth-placed Waratahs might be undefeated at home this season, but they’ve lost two from two on the road.
The first was at the hands of Australian conference leaders the Brumbies in Canberra, followed by their 32-10 loss to the competition-leading Sharks in Durban last week.
“We need to start winning away from home,” Hooper said.
“These are the sort of games you need to win to build your season.”
It will be no mean feat, however, as not one team in 16 attempts this season has won after crossing the Indian Ocean.
Hooper and co will also have to pull it off without Folau, who has failed to overcome a knock to his throat and will be replaced by Kurtley Beale in the No.15 jumper.
“He (Folau) is a very special player. His ability to do things individually are incredible,” Hooper said.
“But in saying that, we’ve got guys and depth there who can come in and stick to our shapes.”
Adding to the Waratahs’ woes will be the absence of fellow Wallabies Wycliff Palu (ankle) and Rob Horne (suspension).
The Stormers face massive injury concerns of their own, with captain Jean de Villiers (cyst) and key attacking threat Gio Aplon (elbow) both out injured.
And while the Stormers have also just returned from a winless four-week Australasian tour, Hooper isn’t convinced it’s a good time to play the defensively-strong boys from Cape Town.
“It’s a bad time if anything,” he said.
“It’s a massive game for them. They’ll be wanting to win in their stadium in front of their crowd.
“We’ve done some reviews this week on where we think we can exploit some areas, but in general, they had a hard trip and will be coming back to rip in.”
Hooper added he’ll be doing everything he can to respond to coach Michael Cheika’s calls for a more clinical performance at the ruck.
“The Sharks definitely got into our breakdown quite well last week and through that and handling errors we weren’t able to hold onto our ball,” he said.
“We need to ensure we’re not overstocking breakdowns and getting the right numbers there.”