Waratahs finally have the goods - Daryl Gibson
Daryl Gibson's four Super Rugby championships as a Crusaders player had an influential decision-making combination as the cornerstone of success, and the Waratahs assistant coach believes that strength can finally guide the Australian franchise to a coveted title.
Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley are not yet in the same class of the Crusaders and All Black halfback and first five-eighth pairing that propelled Super Rugby's most successful team to glory from 1998 to 2000 and again in 2002 - but the Wallabies duo have finally addressed a long-standing weakness that's confined the Waratahs to just two appearances in a decider.
"The Crusaders team I played in were very blessed with Andrew Mehrtens and Justin Marshall," Gibson reflected as the Australian conference winners and competition leaders strive to secure a home semifinal by beating the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
"It's very easy to build a team around that sort of spine. That's probably been a criticism of the Waratahs in the past, that's never been the case so it's nice we're developing a partnership."
Foley, the incumbent Wallabies first five-eighth, and Phipps, the back-up for Nic White during last month's series win over France, have played all 14 games for the Waratahs so far - a key factor contributing to the Sydney-based team building a five-match winning sequence since their Anzac day loss to the Blues at Eden Park.
Gibson felt that defeat marked a turning point of a campaign that threatens to exceed the achievements of the final-making rosters of 2005 and 2008.
"We came back home, refocused and got a bit more balance in our game. I think we've shown a lot more consistency in performance and in preparation. For us, that's a key thing going forward into finals football," said Gibson, who joined head coach Michael Cheika in a new coaching set-up last season after four years on Todd Blackadder's staff at the Crusaders.
"You don't necessarily need to do anything new or fancy, you've just got to reset yourself around the things that are making you successful and making sure you deliver on those."
Dominating the collision area is an obvious priority after Gibson felt the Waratahs only ruled that facet during the back end of a 39-8 win over a depleted Brumbies line-up on Saturday.
"The breakdown's the key one for us. We're a running team and we understand teams want to combat that by getting stuck into the breakdown.
"The teams we've lost to have really targeted that area," he said, reflecting on the Brumbies' success in round three and subsequent losses to the Sharks, Western Force and Blues.
Providing a rearranged loose trio that includes Stephen Hoiles at blindside for the injured Dave Dennis, Gibson was anticipating a free-flowing encounter with a Highlanders side brimming with offensive fire power.
"They've got some really key guys out wide with x-factor and we know we're going to throw the ball around so it's going to be entertaining."
As a former midfield back, Gibson was particularly looking forward to the match up between 94-cap Wallaby Adam Ashley-Cooper and rookie Highlanders and All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa.
"It's almost old bull, young bull there," he smiled.