NSW Waratahs captain Dave Dennis is demanding his teammates lift their game as Super Rugby’s reigning champions face a test of character to keep their title defence alive.
The Waratahs host the table-topping Brumbies next Sunday at Allianz Stadium desperately needing to win to remain in touch with the Australian conference leaders after collapsing to a 26-19 loss to the Highlanders on Saturday.
It was the Waratahs’ first road loss in 10 months and denied the champions six straight away victories for the first time in 20 seasons.
But it was the manner of the defeat that worried Dennis most as the Tahs surrendered a 12-0 advantage and lost the physicality stakes after making a bright start in Dunedin.
Slick set-move tries to Nick Phipps and Matt Carraro had the Waratahs in control before they lost their way following a match-turning sin-binning of prop Sekope Kepu just before the half-hour mark.
Concerned that a worrying pattern of concentration and energy lapses were undermining their campaign, the Waratahs’ straight-shooting skipper said the titleholders mustn’t live in the past if they want to go back to back in 2015.
“Every team we play is going to grow an extra leg,” Dennis said.
“We’ve been expecting that, so we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to respond.
“We play some good footy in patches and then drop off during games and that’s about where we’re at at the moment.
“There are similar signs at training. It’s hard to pinpoint why we’re dropping off in intensity.”
Dennis said nothing less than a full 80-minute performance would be good enough against the Brumbies, who are outright top of the competition after thumping the Queensland Reds 29-0 in a five-try rout at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night night.
The Brumbies will also be eyeing revenge for their heavy finals loss to the Waratahs last season and have the chance to open a 15-point gap on their conference rivals.
“Obviously any time you play the Brumbies it’s a big game,” Dennis said.
“We’ve got to get back to training, have a good week’s preparation and stay positive.”
After three successive away games, the Waratahs are now looking forward to three matches at home against the Brumbies, Blues and Stormers plus an Easter weekend bye.
“It’ll be great to be back in Sydney,” Dennis said.
“Hopefully we can repay our loyal fans with some good rugby and a few wins.”