On fire: The Waratahs and Adam Ashley-Cooper are shooting for a place in the Super Rugby final. Photo: Getty Images
Virtue has its own rewards. At 9.27pm last Monday a media release from the Waratahs franchise popped up on my laptop. It had this exuberant headline: "Over 33,000 Tickets Snapped Up For Tahs."
The tickets are for Saturday night’s Super Rugby semi-final against the ACT Brumbies. A win for the Waratahs ensures them their first-ever home final.
The Waratahs are not only winning, they are winning in style. They are bringing back the joy in rugby for their supporters, and for followers of the game in the SANZAR region. Good.
There is no "hard day at the office" mentality about the play of the Waratahs. I dislike this phrase, which is often used by players talking about their sport. Boxing is one game you don't play. But rugby is a game, first and foremost, that you play. It is not office work. Players need to enjoy the contest no matter how fierce and nerve-racking it is.
All Black Richie McCaw, for instance, said that the last 20 minutes of the 2011 Rugby World Cup final were "the best 20 minutes of my life". The Waratahs have brought the same notion of loving the contest to their play throughout this season.
As a consequence of this, they are becoming a Lovemarks franchise.
The concept of Lovemarks was devised by Kevin Roberts, the worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi and a former chairman of USA Rugby. Lovemarks, argues Roberts, "build Loyalty that goes Beyond Reason". The concept is based on respect and love.
There is a passionate support building for the attacking game of the Waratahs, as the crowd numbers are indicating.
The key to this Waratahs attacking game is a tactical innovation introduced by coach Michael Cheika. The Waratahs use two lines of attack, like many sides. But their front line attacks in an arrow formation, a leading runner having players slightly behind him, on the inside and outside.
This is a new tactic. The runner has the option of taking the tackle, or slipping a pass to a support runner. The effect of this formation on the opposing players is that it requires them to thicken the defensive line near the ruck. What this means, in turn, is that space is created out wide for the second line of runners.
It is no accident, then, that Israel Folau has scored a record number of tries (12) this season for the Waratahs. Adam Ashley-Cooper has made more breaks at centre, too, than he has in the last five seasons combined. Rob Horne, a journeyman in the past, has become a penetrative runner.
The arrowhead formation has allowed the Waratahs to be the best team in the tournament for carries, metres gained, offloads, passes and clean breaks in each game.
The Highlanders and the Reds (who conceded their biggest losing margin to the Waratahs) could not handle this running onslaught in recent weeks. Somehow the Brumbies will have to find a way to close down the runners. Their tactics to do this will be interesting. Then they have to make breaks themselves against the best defence in the tournament.
Last week against the Chiefs the Brumbies performed the second part of this equation, essentially through a phenomenal running performance by Henry Speight. Virtually all the Brumbies penetration came from Speight who made 186 metres, broke 12 tackles (the second-best of any player in a Super Rugby match), created two line breaks and made three offloads.
Stephen Larkham, in his first season as head coach, has slowly changed the style of his side from the "Jakeball" game inherited from Jake White’s stint as coach to the more traditional Brumbies game, "Macqueenball". The attacking elements of this Macqueenball game worked well against the Chiefs. But the defensive aspects need tightening.
There is no love between the two teams. There is the feeling among the Waratahs they were dobbed in by Brumbies players for breaking a curfew when the Wallabies played Ireland last year.
Will the Brumbies revert to the Jakeball game under this pressure? Will the Waratahs keep the faith in their running game?
Prediction: The Waratahs and the Crusaders (another Lovemarks side) to contest the 2014 Super Rugby final.