The NSW Waratahs are hoping to kick back clear of their Australian conference rivals with a season-turning Super Rugby triumph over the Highlanders tomorrow night.
Despite suffering three straight losses to invite the Melbourne Rebels back into the playoff picture, the Waratahs believe they are peaking nicely six rounds out from the finals after pushing the defending champion Crusaders to the brink last start.
Captain Michael Hooper is still smarting after letting the Crusaders off the hook from 29-0 up and has highlighted the importance of not gifting the Highlanders a leg-up through ill-discipline at Allian Stadium.
The Waratahs played a quarter of last Saturday's match in Christchurch a man down with halfback Nick Phipps and winger Taqele Naiyaravoro yellow carded either side of halftime.
"We've got to have 15 men on the field, particularly against top teams, and they made us pay on the weekend," Hooper said at today's captain's run.
The skipper admits his side needs to strike a balance, pointing out a first-half Naiyaravoro intercept try helped the Tahs to their 29-0 lead before he was sin- binned attempting another with the match in the balance after the break.
"So you want to encourage the skill of being smart with it. It's frustrating because it was on the back of another penalty we'd already given away," the flanker said Naiyaravoro's dismissal.
"So that compounded it and I think that's just a bit of anxiety of where we were at in the game and knowing the Crusaders were coming.
"Maybe we thought about that rather than what was working for us in the first half.
"But the key for us is confidence and momentum. If we get that, it will do us well."
In a sign of respect for the Waratahs, who are trying to break the Australian teams' 39-match losing streak to New Zealand opposition, the Highlanders have opted not to rest All Blacks fullback Ben Smith as planned.
The aerial battle between Smith and Waratahs fullback Israel Folau will be decisive.