“Boys, we’ve gotta win five in a row or die trying.”
These were the inspirational words Waratahs captain Michael Hooper said to teammates shortly after the weekend’s loss to the Lions which has the group fired up to inflict further pain on a Queensland Reds side desperate to reverse a ten-game losing streak against NSW.
Motivated: Michael Hooper has told Waratahs teammates their season will be all but done if they don’t beat the Reds on Saturday. Credit:AAP
When the Waratahs bus pulled up at their hotel in Johannesburg after a 29-28 loss to the Lions – their seventh from 11 starts this season – Hooper told his players to stay on board.
Coaches and staff exited the bus as Hooper looked players in the eye and effectively told them every game was a must-win from here on if the side was going to make the finals for the second year in a row.
It’s close to panic stations for the Waratahs, who are seven points behind the Brumbies (29) and must come away from Brisbane with four or more competition points to stay within touch of the Melbourne Rebels (28) as well in the Australian conference.
After the Reds fixture, the Waratahs face the Jaguares (home), Rebels (away), Brumbies (home) and Highlanders (away).
“The fact there is only five games left there is a real fire in the belly for us to grab the season by the horns,” prop Harry Johnson-Holmes told the Herald. “We’re a team that loves to compete and we love challenges.
“It’s definitely disheartening because we’ve played some great football throughout the season and there’s so many minor moments in so many games now that have kept us from coming away with full competition points.
“It’s not dwelling on the fact we’ve been so close in so many occasions but trying to acknowledge that with the benefit of the comp being so close we’ve still got five games to take fate into our own hands.
“There’s always extra feeling between Queensland and NSW, but it’s more a hereditary thing. You’re kind of born to hate the Maroons and I’m sure they’re born to hate the Blues.”
As a young player, Harry-Johnson Holmes said there was no one better than Hooper to turn to during a tough period for a group sitting 13th on the overall ladder.
“Hoops is the kind of guy I’d follow to hell and back,” Johnson-Holmes said. “He’s an absolute workhorse and a true leader within the team and I think that’s probably something that has inspired me. You look over at a bloke like that who has been giving it his all for the past 79 minutes and he’s still breathing life into the team and keeping a cool head when those games come down to the wire.
“He’s a tremendous leader and every week I’m always excited to follow him into battle.”
Johnson-Holmes has had a breakout season for the Waratahs and comfortably filled the void at loose-head prop left by the injured Tom Robertson, who is now back in starting contention.
If Johnson-Holmes does start on Saturday he will come head-to-head with Reds enforcer Taniela Tupou in what will be an interesting battle at scrum-time between Australia’s in-form prop and an incumbent Wallaby in a World Cup year.
“Any time you’re given an opportunity to go up against Taniela you’re definitely going to lick your lips,” Johnson-Holmes said. “It was disappointing last time we played them because there was the issue with the SCG [surface] and that probably didn’t help the competition between us. I’m keen to see how I fare against him.”
Meanwhile, Johnson-Holmes insisted he hadn’t been invited to a Wallabies camp scheduled for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in Brisbane.
“That’s something I’m keeping out of mind,” he said. “Whilst I’ve got a job with the Waratahs the excitement of starting here is enough for me. I’m taking it as it comes.”
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