A winless Super Rugby AU season doesn’t bear thinking about for the NSW Waratahs as they look to rub salt into the wounds of the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday night.
Western Force’s dramatic 30-27 win over the table-topping Queensland Reds on Friday night officially eliminated the fourth-placed Rebels from the finals race.
So pride and the Weary Dunlop Shield are the line when the Waratahs host the Rebels in an otherwise dead rubber at Bankwest Stadium.
“There’s huge motivation for us,” skipper Jake Gordon said.
“It’s a must-win for us. We don’t want to finish the year on a whitewash.
“We’ve obviously spoken about improving each week and we’ve done a great job of that recently.
“But we’re still chasing that W, especially with the trans-Tasman competition upcoming.
“We need to build some confidence so we can really hit the ground running there.”
With NSW staring down the barrel of an historic winless campaign, all the heat would ordinarily be on the Waratahs to finally deliver that precious victory for their dwindling number of diehard fans.
But the Rebels are under now under even more pressure to try to spare besieged coach Dave Wessels from the axe after missing the finals yet again.
Languishing in fourth spot with a 2-5 record that could so easily have been 5-2, the Rebels – and Wessels – will rue losing four games at the death.
But his side’s inability to close out tight contests with an attack that has managed to yield only ten tries in seven games has left Wessels under the gun.
“Frustratingly, we’ve come close in four games and lost in the last play of the game or the last couple of minutes,” said sidelined captain Dane Haylett-Petty, who maintained the Rebels “definitely, definitely” still backed Wessels.
“Dave’s a great coach. He’s a great leader so the players are right behind him,” the Wallabies star said.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure but you can’t tell.”
Already consigned to the wooden spoon, the Waratahs are well aware there’s some silverware to be salvaged.
“We’d love to win a shield,” Gordon said.
“But we have to win first.
“We definitely feel like we can win. We’ve had a strong preview of them. There’s ways that we think we can pressure the Rebels and hopefully get a win.”