Rugby-Top two still within reach, says Waratahs coach Cheika

MELBOURNE, April 27 (Reuters) - The New South Wales Waratahs have not given up on their goal of a top-two finish in Super Rugby's regular season despite the wheels all but falling off the Sydney side over the past month. The Waratahs were insipid in Friday's 21-13 loss to the lowly Blues, who put their disastrous experiment with rugby league convert Benji Marshall behind them with a defiant performance to ease pressure on embattled coach John Kirwan. The loss at Eden Park was the Waratahs' third from their past five games, leaving them clinging to sixth spot ahead of an unenviable assignment against the high-flying Hurricanes in Wellington next weekend. The Waratahs are now six points behind the Brumbies in the Australian conference. The Brumbies bolstered their title credentials with a resounding 41-23 victory over the double-defending champion Chiefs in Canberra, also on Friday. Despite the loss of form, firebrand coach Michael Cheika said his Waratahs side still harboured ambitions of reining in the Brumbies and Durban-based competition leaders, the Sharks, to secure a guaranteed semi-final on home soil. "That's got to be our goal," Cheika told News Ltd media on Sunday. "The Brumbies now are a bit clear of us, but we've still got to play them, which is a plus for us, and they've still got to go to South Africa. "And without getting too much into predictions, the Sharks have got six games on the road now. "So they're only one win and two bonus points away from us. "There is still everything to play for around that. "There is no point in changing your goals." The much-vaunted backline that fired the Waratahs earlier in the season sputtered to a halt against the Blues, whose stifling defence frustrated prolific fullback Israel Folau and his team mates Kurtley Beale and flyhalf Bernard Foley. Though the Blues provided the in-form Hurricanes a handy blueprint in how to nullify the Waratahs' attack, the Sydney-based team were also culpable in their demise, fumbling repeatedly and turning over the ball when attempting ambitious offloads during raids on the line. Folau, his team's leading try-scorer with nine this season, said the Waratahs needed to shelve the fancy stuff and get back to blue-collar basics. "We definitely have to look at that after (Friday)," he told Fairfax media. "It was the offloads, if we're going to do it we have to make sure it's 100 percent on, otherwise Cheika will be saying 'hold the ball and carry it strong and play the next phase'. "It just wasn't going our way." (Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)