Waratahs task gets tougher as Hurricanes recall All Blacks
IT seems it couldn't get much worse for the Waratahs, but then comes the stark reality of what awaits them on Friday.
After missing 47 tackles in their 41-22 loss to the Crusaders, the Tahs face the defending champion Hurricanes, who are averaging an extraordinary 49.4 points per game this season and will welcome the return of captain and All Blacks hooker Dane Coles.
The Hurricanes have racked up 247 points this season while conceding just 79. In comparison, NSW has scored 135 while conceding 199 in two wins and four losses to start 2017.
The numbers suggest that in order to defeat the Hurricanes, NSW must be capable of scoring plenty of points in Wellington, and that could fall to rookie five-eighth Mack Mason.
The 20-year-old started against the Crusaders and if Bernard Foley fails to recover from his ongoing issues by Wednesday, Mason will be pitted against Hurricanes superstar Beauden Barrett, the reigning World Rugby player of the year.
"He is probably one of the best in the world at 10, him and Bernard are up there,” Mason said.
"It's good to learn off Bernard as well.
"But Beauden does different things a lot better, just his kicking game is very strong, so you look at that and he's just eyes up.”
Mason set up two second-half tries after a shaky start and has no doubt he is up to Super Rugby standard after facing the competition-leading Crusaders.
"The first half I was a bit rusty and probably just had to find my feet and get into the game, then in second half I felt like I really belonged out there,” Mason said.
"It's probably a credit to the players outside me, helping me, telling me what to do like give it to them early or just play them up.
"You've got guys like Israel Folau outside you, you can't have a much better centre pairing than Israel Folau and Dave Horwitz.
"Hopefully I did a good job [against the Crusaders] and then looking as a team to the Hurricanes, making sure we do the little things right each week.
"We've got to come prepared.
"We can't sulk over this game, we've got to get up for the Hurricanes, they're a massive team and it's a good match.”
While the Canes are expected to be without hard-running backrower Ardie Savea, they will bring back Coles, who was rested from last weekend's 34-15 win over Queensland.
They also expect All Black winger Cory Jane and lock/backrower Vaea Fifita to return from injury, ensuring the Tahs will face a monumental task in becoming the first Australian team to beat a New Zealand side in 2017, with the Kiwi sides leading 11-0 so far.
But Mason isn't fazed, and will need the leadership skills he developed in Brisbane's star-studded 2014 Churchie school first XV to guide NSW home.
"[Leadership] is a bit natural, growing up I was the eldest so being the bossiest, and always telling them what to do,” Mason said.
"Then at school, we really had a good school team and I was captain there, so being captain in the younger grades really helps and keeps you composed, you know what you have to do for the players around you.
"That school team was very rare, Kalyn Ponga, Harley Fox, Izaia Perese, Jayden Sua just to name a few.
"They're all playing first grade either for Super Rugby or rugby league, it was a great team.”