Super Rugby
Grudging respect but hatred soon follows
Sam Bruce
March 20, 2015

The Wallabies' Dublin drinks post-script may be water under the bridge but the simmering tensions of the past 20 years suggest another fierce Waratahs-Brumbies clash is on the cards this Sunday.

The two Australian rivals meet at Allianz Stadium in arguably the pick of the Round 6 Super Rugby action, the fixture pitting head Wallabies coach Michael Cheika against his newly appointed deputy Stephen Larkham.

It's a match former Waratahs and Ireland Test forward Keith Gleeson remembers fondly, and the former flanker says Sunday's clash will draw on 20 years' worth of rivalry to serve up another spicy encounter even though the end-of-year tour headline that dominated pre-match build-up in 2014 has been forgotten.

"Not much has changed; both teams have a grudging respect for each other but hate comes second," Gleeson told ESPN. "So when I first came on the scene, I was only very young and it was at the time of [George] Gregan, [Stephen] Larkham, Phil Kearns and all the established Wallabies players. At the time the Brumbies had thrown off the 'reject' tag of Australia and they would go on to win a Super 12 title in 2001; so they had sort of become the team to beat. And at that time, NSW were probably envious of their success. And up until last year, NSW has been envious of their success."

Sunday's clash in Sydney promises to be another physical encounter © Getty Images

The Brumbies are riding high at the top of the ladder, and a win for will see them open a healthy lead atop the Australian conference; the Waratahs, meanwhile, are looking to hit the reset button following a 2-2 start to the season. The defending champions haven't looked anything like the side that recorded nine straight victories on their way to the 2014 title, with poor handling, simple defensive lapses and a shaky set-piece resulting in a lack of continuity. The Brumbies, on the other hand, have added a hardened defensive edge with the recruitment of tackling guru and dual-code star Peter Ryan, while Larkham has the backline working in perfect harmony - which was the hallmark of their success during the early years of Super 12.

"The weekend's game will be very interesting because NSW are obviously the current champions while the Brumbies believe, and have always believed, that they are the true champion team of Australia," Gleeson said. "So I think you'll see both sides going at it pretty hard. And from a NSW perspective, being a NSW supporter, I'm hoping that the Waratahs start to put their game together again this year."

To put it in golfing terms, the Waratahs are yet to find the fairway and it's making life tough around the greens. That may seem like a strange analogy but it's exactly the kind of thinking Michael Cheika uses in his pre-match message; well, sort of. Cheika was shown brandishing a driver in the changing rooms ahead of last year's semi-final between the two sides, and he took the theme further seven days later by presenting each player with a club ahead of their dramatic grand final win over the Crusaders. Having worked with Cheika at Irish province Leinster, Gleeson is all too familiar with the coach's motivational antics.

"Cheika is a funny character, he's great person at motivation," Gleeson told ESPN. "And I think that is probably one of the things he spends a lot of time on. For those big games, Leinster-Munster, it's no different to New South Wales playing Queensland or New South Wales playing the Brumbies; you don't need a lot of motivation for those games. If you do, you're in the wrong sport, the wrong trade.

"But certainly it's the stuff that they can do midweek, between games, because every player goes through ups and downs; and Cheika is very good at getting into players' heads and bringing the best out of them. And Cheika does have a bit of a temper, so you wanted to make sure that when you came off at half-time you were one of the guys playing well. If the team wasn't playing well, and you weren't playing well, there was a chance you'd get a chair thrown at you."

It all adds to the rivalry and, worst-case scenario for the Waratahs players; Moore Park golf course is just a short chair-throw away from Allianz Stadium.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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