Super Rugby: Waratahs v Brumbies
The Waratahs take on the UC Brumbies at ANZ Stadium Photo: Mark Nolan
It is a tale of injuries that will have huge effects for Australia's two Super Rugby contenders.
But while the injury-hit ACT Brumbies struggle to get troops on the field, the NSW Waratahs will use skipper Dave Dennis' heartbreaking knee injury as inspiration for their title bid.
Dennis fell to the ground in agony just minutes before half-time with a suspected torn anterior cruciate ligament in the Waratahs' 39-8 win against the Brumbies at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
The five-tries-to-one romp was partly soured by the pain on Dennis' face as he stares at the prospect of a third, and potentially career-threatening, knee reconstruction.
Dennis had back-to-back knee reconstructions in 2007 and 2008. But the latest setback could be the breaking point for his career. He has a year left on his contract, but it will take almost that long for him to recover from another knee reconstruction.
The Waratahs play the Otago Highlanders at Allianz Stadium on Sunday and Queensland Reds in the last game of the regular season. Two wins will guarantee a top-two finish, a financial boost, a home final and a chance to win the title.
"It's horrible, 'Denno' has been our leader, you never like to see that and we put it out there for Denno in the second half," stand-in NSW captain Michael Hooper said.
"We're very proud to go the 80 minutes and keep putting points on. It's a feature that has come into our game this year and something we need to keep if we want to go into the finals."
What a difference a couple of months make. When the Waratahs lost to the Brumbies in Canberra, their critics came out and the headlines were about a broken glass door in the NSW coaches box.
But Michael Cheika's men are perfectly positioned to aim for the club's first championship.
On the other side, the Brumbies were hit with early injury woes in the match when Tevita Kuridrani was knocked out in the first 10 minutes, Henry Speight was left dazed in the opening moments of the second half and Jesse Mogg was left limping after an aerial battle with Israel Folau.
The trio of injuries added to an already disastrous casualty ward in Canberra, which includes Matt Toomua, David Pocock, Stephen Moore, Sam Carter, Joseph Tomane, Pat McCabe and Andrew Smith.
The Brumbies are clinging to a finals berth, but captain Ben Mowen lauded his team's defiance, adding that the club can expect up to eight players back on the field for their next game, against the Western Force.
"It was very tough, in the end the scoreboard doesn't reflect a tough game," Mowen said. "But we're honestly proud. There were moments of championship footy in there, but it wasn't consistent enough. We've just got to win against the Force and whatever happens, happens."
The Waratahs had 14 Test players in their starting XV, while the Brumbies had six Wallabies out of action with injury.
The Brumbies need to win their last game of the regular season against the Western Force on July 11 to be any chance to making the play-offs in successive years for the first time in a decade.