Phil Waugh tipping the Waratahs for greatness
The NSW Waratahs have received the ultimate nod of approval, with the state's most-capped player declaring Michael Cheika's record-setting class of 2014 as possibly the most complete team in Super Rugby history.
Boasting 18 internationals and the inside running to a home grand final, former captain Phil Waugh believes only the Crusaders or an injury to attacking trump Israel Folau can stop the Waratahs from winning their maiden title.
''The talent and experience and the potential of the team they've got together now in that squad is right up there with one of the best that not just the Waratahs have seen but also probably Super Rugby has seen,'' Waugh said.
''I look across the park and it's probably the most complete team.''
Waugh, who led NSW to the 2008 final and also contested the 2005 decider in a 132-game, 11-year Super career, said the Waratahs, with the likes of Michael Hooper, Benn Robinson, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne and Kurtley Beale, were ''just a very, very mentally strong team''.
Above all, though, Waugh believes the halves pairing of Nick Phipps and Wallabies five-eighth Bernard Foley sets the Waratahs apart from their rivals.
''You could argue in the history of Super Rugby that the teams with the best nine and 10 are always the most successful,'' he said.
''You go back to Gregan-Larkham (Brumbies), Marshall-Mehrtens (Crusaders), Dan Carter-Andy Ellis (Crusaders), du Preez-Steyn (Bulls), Carlos Spencer-Steve Devine (Blues).
''In recent times, Kerr-Barlow-Cruden (Chiefs), Genia-Cooper (Reds), the importance of the nine and 10 is critical and I really like the way Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley are combining.
''Then you throw Kurtley Beale into the mix when he steps into first receiver.
''For mine, I think that the balance of the team is very, very strong.''
The former Wallabies captain said the Waratahs, who wrapped up their maiden minor premiership with a six-try demolition of the Highlanders on Sunday, had the forward firepower, kicking smarts and backline talent to win in all conditions.
The only potential perils Waugh could see for the Waratahs were the seven-time champion Crusaders, who they are favoured to meet in the August 2 grand final, and an injury to Folau, the competition's leading tryscorer.
''For mine, the Crusaders are the only team that can beat the Waratahs,'' he said.
''With Kieran Reid coming back, Richie (McCaw) coming back, Dan Carter coming back, they're obviously very, very experienced players and in critical positions as well.
''So they're a team who are very, very dangerous.''
The Waratahs lost to the Sharks and Western Force when Folau was sidelined mid-season with a throat injury.
''There's certainly a correlation between when Israel was out for those couple of games and the results,'' Waugh said.
''So you'd have to say that the impact Israel has from a balancing point of view, a points-scoring point of view and the energy that he provides to the team, you'd say he's a critical member of the team.
''But, look, I think they're in a very, very good spot.''