Super Rugby
Soft underbelly comment 'warranted, probably'
Andy Withers
August 2, 2014
NSW Waratahs 33-32 Crusaders (Australia only)

The New South Wales Waratahs forwards were neither offended nor especially motivated by pre-match comments from ESPN columnist Craig Dowd that they were the "soft underbelly" of the team.

The former All Blacks prop caused a stir when he wrote in his weekly column for ESPN that "the soft underbelly of the Waratahs team is in the forward pack, and I think the Crusaders will target the forward pack on Saturday night and play their own game", and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder was at pains to state on Friday that he and his team were "too smart" to agree with Dowd.

Kieran Read and Todd Blackadder lament the Crusaders' slow start and the '50-50 decision' to award the match-deciding penalty

Blackadder, at the post-match press conference, reiterated his disappointment with Dowd's comments, saying "you'll always find someone who'll say something as stupid as that".

"New South Wales have been the best team all season, and they showed that tonight at the end, didn't they," Blackadder said. "That's a credit. They should be proud of their season."

Cheika said he had not used the comments for what many people considered would have been obvious bait to lay in front of his slandered pack.

"It didn't work out when I tried to say it was the Crusaders coach that said that," Cheika laughed. "The boys saw the article so I couldn't cut and paste well enough; I didn't get away with that motivational tool."

Cheika, indeed, said that Dowd's comments were "warranted, probably".

"I think there's a perception that we are a little soft," he said. "And it's only up to us to show that we are coming up and we want to try to earn respect of all our competitors. I wouldn't say it was a motivational tool. We know it's in the back of our mind that it's out there and it's up to us to rectify that. No-one else can do that."

Michael Cheika hails Tahs' team ethic

The Waratahs' forwards held their own against the Crusaders set-piece even though Sekope Kepu was penalised twice in as many second-half minutes for scrum offences as the visitors looked to assert some authority after Tahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau had left the field with what Cheika believed "looked like a medial" ligament injury.

But Cheika said that his pack's one-off performance in winning a high-stakes fixture against highly credentialed opponents was not enough to change perceptions.

"Once we've done it for a few more years - of being solid, aggressive, at the ball, and people don't think like that - then you've done it. Not tonight. Tonight's not the solution to that."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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