Sun 20 Apr 2014 | 07:45
Top two spot in sight for Cheika
Sun 20 Apr 2014 | 07:45
Top two spot in sight for CheikaSHARE
Michael Cheika says his side is "on track" but must keep turning the screws on opponents to reach the goal of a top-two finish.
With half of the season gone and the Waratahs are in fourth position on the ladder thanks to a gritty 19-12 win over the Bulls, Cheika is turning his attention to the details.
"I think we're on track, five wins and three losses, we have a few bonus points and a game away from home in our pocket, we've won all our home games," he said.
"This is the halfway stage of my tenure here, one and a half years in, one and a half to go, and what we really want to focus on in the next 10 weeks till the end of the regular season
It is really [making] sure we are an improving side and that all the little opportunities – not just try-scoring opportunities – all our options … we start to improve on."
The Waratahs have two days off before meeting again on Tuesday, leaving just three days to prepare for the Blues in Auckland, their first clash with a New Zealand side this season.
Playmaker Kurtley Beale is expected to recover from a swollen ankle but will need the rest.
His presence in the back line is not as talked-about as Israel Folau's but his control of the performances alongside flyhalf Bernard Foley can be masterful.
Cheika is chasing more performances like the Waratahs' first half effort against the Bulls, in which they dictated a furious pace and kept their opponents on the back foot for the first 35 minutes.
"The key statistic in rugby is the conversion rate and not just in tries, but converting the opportunities you make to go further down the field to keep the ball and put pressure on the opposition," he said.
"If you score tries or get points and keep them on the back foot, they feel pressure so they can't play their game. Once you let them play their game they have an even shot at it."
The Waratahs' pack produced another abrasive performance.
Jacques Potgieter and Benn Robinson were cheered off the field in the second half and Will Skelton should have been. The 22-year-old has taken his starting opportunities with both hands and run with them.
The Bulls were more dominant in the scrum but the Waratahs were able to neutralise the effect thanks either to the lopsided first-half penalty count or any one of their 16 turnovers.
Israel Folau's try was the only five-pointer of the match but Cheika was pleased the Waratahs were able to tailor their game plan on the run.
The side used the boot just as much as the notoriously kick-happy Bulls but managed to keep it in the field of play so as to minimise the visitors' line-out opportunities.
"The boys thought on their feet a fair bit in the second half and got themselves in the situation where we were still able to keep ourselves nudging ahead," Cheika said.
"It wasn't a diamond performance but there was plenty of good, hard work going on out there and sometimes that's just what you need."