Wake-up call for Waratahs to get heads straight
IF rugby really is a game that is won and lost in the mind then the Waratahs should book themselves an appointment on the shrink's sofa as soon as possible.
The suggestion they unwittingly took their foot off the gas against the Brumbies because they were already thinking ahead to the playoffs beggars belief because it goes against everything sports psychologists drill into their patients.
There's a very simple, well-documented reason why professional athletes stick to the old mantra of always taking it one game at a time - because anything else is a sure-fire recipe for disappointment, as the Waratahs learned after slipping up against their archrivals.
The real impact of Saturday's sobering 41-30 defeat remains to be seen and it may yet turn out to be just the wake-up call they need to fulfil their undoubted ability.
But it might just as easily be the tipping point that brings about a premature end to their Super Rugby title aspirations.
"We definitely know we have the potential in this team to do very well," Waratahs assistant coach Chris Malone said.
"Obviously there are some technical and tactical areas that we didn't quite get right so that will be what we will be concentrating on this week
"For us it's about making sure we get our details right because we were a bit off in a couple of areas and all the boys know that, they don't need us to tell them that."
While still confident they can turns things around, the danger for the Waratahs is that the momentum they had meticulously built up to earn themselves a favourable draw throughout the playoffs has been lost after they dropped from second to third place on the ladder.
Instead of hosting the Jaguares in the first week of the finals, now they've got the Highlanders, who rested some of their key players for the last week of the regular season.
If the Waratahs manage to get through that, they may then have to travel to South Africa for the semis rather than remain in Sydney as a reward for finishing second.
"If you don't win the quarter-final there's no point thinking about anything beyond that," Malone said.
"We can't even worry about it, we've just got to get it right for the Highlanders at home and it will be a huge game and potentially the last game at Allianz Stadium before the rebuild."
Of the four New Zealand teams that qualified for the postseason, the Highlanders loom as the best matchup for the Waratahs.
NSW smashed the Highlanders 41-12 in Sydney earlier this year to end Australia's long drought against New Zealand teams and, although the visitors played most of the match a man down, Malone doesn't see any reason why they can't beat them again.
"We set out at the start of the year to be conference champions and we've done that, we set out to have a home quarter-final and we've done that, and we set out to realise our potential and at points (during the season) we have," Malone said.
"It's our job as coaches to prepare the boys around what the Highlanders might bring tactically.
"Just getting it right between the ears is probably the big thing that we need to do this week and with the prospect of a home quarter-final in front of our supporters who have been really good to us, I'm sure the boys will be right up to the game."