Waratahs plotting Super Rugby title tilt

NSW Waratahs believe they are building nicely for another Super Rugby title tilt after embarking on their best start to a season in 12 years.

NSW Waratahs' win over the Queensland Reds means they have beaten all Australian rivals this season.

NSW Waratahs' win over the Queensland Reds means they have beaten all Australian rivals this season.

The Waratahs' 36-17 bonus-point triumph over the Queensland Reds shot them to the top of the Australian conference as serious doubts surfaced over their rivals' ability to keep pace.

Queensland coach Brad Thorn ruled out recalling exiled playmaker Quade Cooper despite the Reds' pedestrian attack failing to trouble the Waratahs in a worrying third-straight defeat.

"Like I said at the start of the season, we're going in a different direction," Thorn said, after the Reds slipped 11 points behind the Waratahs.

After a flying start to 2018, the Rebels relinquished their conference lead with a deflating 25-22 home loss to the Jaguares and face being without injured Wallabies halfback Will Genia for an arduous two-game tour of South Africa.

Genia, Melbourne's standout performer over the opening half of the competition, limped off with a hamstring injury before the Rebels blew a handy second-half advantage at AAMI Park.

"There's a chance he won't go to Africa. He's got to have a scan on his hamstring," Rebels coach Dave Wessels said.

The Brumbies also capitulated, a 43-17 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin consigning Australian franchises to a staggering 34th consecutive defeat at the hands of New Zealand opposition.

Little wonder the Waratahs are refusing to look beyond Friday night's hosting of the Lions before shifting their focus to a treacherous four-game block against Kiwi outfits.

"We're building," coach Daryl Gibson said after the Waratahs improved to five wins and a draw from seven outings, their most promising start since going seven and one in 2006.

"One of the things we've said was we're going to go game by game and we're going to improve to get our level of performance to a point where we can compete with the best teams in this competition, and that's what we're striving for.

"So while we're winning, we realise our expectations of ourselves are a lot higher."

Sitting third overall, the Waratahs are rightfully wary of the second-placed Lions, losing finalists last year to the Crusaders.

"They've got big guys and they're able to move the ball around; the best out of the South African teams," said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper.

"We're expecting a huge challenge next week and with our short turnaround we've got to get our stuff right."

Despite their strong position, the match shapes as vital for the Tahs, who have a bye the following round before taking on the Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs in successive weeks.

"We've come through the tough part of the year, I reckon," Gibson said defiantly.

"We've had all our travel (to South Africa, Argentina and Japan). We've only had three home games, including this one.

"I'm really pleased for the team, they're showing some real resilience at times, contended with all that travel and our opponents.

"So I'm thrilled for the team.

"It's excellent momentum carrying into what looms as our biggest challenge to date against the Lions."

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