The Otago Highlanders have hit form at just the right time and will arrive in Sydney charged with confidence after edging the Waikato Chiefs in a wildcard encounter in Dunedin last weekend.
All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith confirmed he was in the form of his life by setting up both tries for Waisake Naholo, who leads Super Rugby in tries scored (11) and clean breaks (30) this season.
In addition to that potent duo, the Highlanders backline also boasts another powerful winger in Patrick Osborne as well as the explosive running of All Blacks Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa.
Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson is well aware the reigning champions will have their work cut out on Saturday.
“They are a very impressive team, they play a high-speed, high-tempo game,” said the former All Blacks centre, who will take over as head coach next year.
“They have plenty of threats, and I think Aaron Smith is probably playing some of the best rugby of his career.
“Across the field they pose a lot of danger, so it's going to be a difficult game for us. I think we need to try to put the brakes on them, try to slow them down, and try to dictate the tempo for the game that we want to play.
“That's the way they play, that's their style and they're doing it very well at the moment.
“For us defensively we have our challenges there but also we understand if we get that right defensively, it provides us opportunities.”
Gibson is hoping conditions underfoot at the Sydney Football Stadium, which will not be as quick as the Highlanders' indoor pitch in Dunedin, might help slow the Highlanders down.
As for containing Aaron Smith, Gibson suggested the best way to stop the livewire halfback was for the Waratahs' pack to cut off his supply of clean ball at source.
“We've talked at times about the ride he gets behind a lot of good go-forward and to try and stop him would be foolish,” he added.
“What we've got to try and do is target the whole team, and have a real team approach.
“I think our defence is getting much better ... coming into the finals, we know how important it is to be rock solid there.”
Wellington Hurricanes host ACT Brumbies in another trans-Tasman Sea clash earlier on Saturday to decide the other finalist. – Reuters
Original source: Waratahs ready to tackle Highlanders