THE NSW Waratahs are rallying around besieged coach Michael Cheika as they steel themselves for their most important match of the Super Rugby season.
The one-time competition leaders and title favourites will tumble outside the top six for the first time all campaign with a loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday while Cheika faces a lengthy suspension if he slips up again.
SANZAR judicial officer Nigel Hampton QC this week hit Cheika with a suspended six-month ban from the game and ordered him to pay $6000 in costs after finding the coach guilty of verbally abusing a cameraman in South Africa.
Cheika had until Thursday to appeal but is understood to have decided against it.
While he lays low and refuses to discuss the matter publicly, assistant coach Daryl Gibson and veteran prop Benn Robinson said Cheika retains the full support of the Waratahs.
"As an organisation, we're fully right behind him," Gibson said.
"Michael is a very passionate person and he believes strongly in standing up for the team."
Robinson insisted that Cheika's battles with officialdom had no bearing on the team's performances nor had the coach's hearing this week been a distraction before the Waratahs' game against the Hurricanes.
"For the players, it's straight down to business [at training]," he said.
"If you look at Michael as a coach, he's always got the team first and whatever it takes for him to allow the team to perform at its best, he's going to do that."
NSW captain Dave Dennis believes Cheika's greatest strength is that "he wears his heart on his sleeve".
"The players know what to expect from him," Dennis said.
"There's no grey areas with Cheik. He's obviously very honest with players and I think that's a great quality he's got.
"He's probably shown over the course of the season that he's quite passionate about winning and I don't think as a playing group it's affected us at all."
Of more concern to the sixth-placed Waratahs is beating the fourth-placed Hurricanes.
"It's crucial," Gibson said.
"Obviously we're at that stage of the season for both teams that if we want to progress and stay in the hunt for the playoff spots that we win.
"But also equally how we really want to find our attacking mojo and get that back and score some good tries." AAP