Kurtley Beale was one of the Waratahs' best against the Highlanders.
Kurtley Beale was one of the Waratahs' best against the Highlanders. CRAIG GOLDING

Waratahs ready for Lions' den

THE Waratahs have already broken one of their curses this year, now they have to bust another if they're to make the Super Rugby grand final.

The embarrassing run of losses to New Zealand teams had already been consigned to history before Saturday's gutsy 30-23 win over the Highlanders but next up is the Lions, a team that used to be the Waratahs' bunnies but now loom as one of the last great frontiers for NSW to conquer.

For all their past achievements, the Waratahs have still never won a playoff match in South Africa and the odds are heavily stacked against them winning next weekend even if they've rediscovered their mojo after overturning a 17-point deficit to beat the Highlanders on Saturday.

"I think we've always had the belief but we've got to keep nailing the big moments," NSW captain Bernard Foley said.

"We've got to be more clinical but the belief and confidence is still there."

Bernard Foley dives over to score.
Bernard Foley dives over to score. CRAIG GOLDING

The combined effects of jet lag and playing at altitude have always made Johannesburg's Ellis Park one of the hardest places for visiting teams to win at and the Waratahs face the added problem of their recent poor form against the Lions.

The Waratahs beat the Lions six times in a row between 2007 and 2014 when the South Africans were struggling and playing more like pussycats but they have since lost their last three matches to the Lions, including a 29-0 drubbing at Allianz Stadium this year.

"The bodies are a bit sore but we've got seven days to recover and the lads have already spoken about what we've got to do when we first get over there," Waratahs flanker Ned Hanigan said.

"We've played them before but they're a pretty different outfit and so are we.

Sekope Kepu is hit hard by Highlanders rival Waisake Naholo.
Sekope Kepu is hit hard by Highlanders rival Waisake Naholo. CRAIG GOLDING

"We can sort of look at examples throughout the season with ourselves, we went down to Canberra and beat the Brumbies then the Brumbies came and beat us in Sydney."

"This is a new week and it's finals football so it's all very different."

There were definitely no wild celebrations after the Waratahs' win over the Highlanders, not just because the players had an early flight booked to South Africa, but also because they knew their performance was riddled with errors and they might just have easily been ruing a missed opportunity.

Their second-half comeback showed the Tahs have got plenty of ticker and can pile on the points when things start to click but coach Daryl Gibson remains concerned about everything that went wrong in the first 40 minutes.

Taqele Naiyaravoro makes a break against the Highlanders.
Taqele Naiyaravoro makes a break against the Highlanders. CRAIG GOLDING

"As much as we laud our attack, our defence won us the game," he said.

"I thought we were poor in the first half. We lost four lineouts and we couldn't get any possession, we couldn't hang on to anything, we couldn't string any phases together, we were getting behind in the penalty count.

"On balance we played very poorly and we still won the game, so it shows we're a good side."

Results: Waratahs d Highlanders 30-23, Hurricanes d Chiefs 32-31, Crusaders d Sharks 40-10, Lions d Jaguares 40-23. Semi-finals: Crusaders v Hurricanes, Lions v Waratahs


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