After the much-vaunted festival of hate against the Reds resulted in a last-minute loss, you could forgive the Waratahs for being far too tired and emotional to contest this week’s Dunlop Shield match against their younger, better-looking cross-town rivals.
(Sorry, Queensland, Beau Robinson is an instant DQ for you blokes in the pageant stakes. But I digress…)
This week will mark the beginning of a much bigger battle for the Melbourne side, the reigning wooden-spooners needing to convince a sporting public that, at the very least, progress on the field has been made from last year, hopefully, matching the long strides forward that the Rebels have made off-field.
Indeed, you have to give credit to the Melbourne recruiting staff – they can pick up with the best of them (Danny Cipriani notwithstanding). Friday’s match will mark the navy blue debuts of Brand James O’Connor and Mitch Inman, while local boy Lloyd Johansson will man the bench in his first game for the home team. The remaining star recruit, Kurtley Beale, will have to don the suit and tie for tomorrow’s match, after running out of time to prove his fitness after a hamstring complaint.
For the visitors, an injury-plagued squad seems to already hinge on new recruit, Sarel Pretorius. Now, I like Sarel. I think he played very well in challenging conditions against the Reds, and he was sublime in the Waratahs’ trial matches.
Also, his name reminds me of the song ‘Oh, Streetcar!’ from The Simpsons:
Lo, before the SFS,
Where the Tahs of football play,
In a city the depressed call home,
Could a title come their way?
Pretorius! Stuff Tom Carter, give him the ball!
Pretorius! The rest of the Tahs look worse than before!
If you want to win a title you should take the time
And go and steal some random bloke from Bloemfontein
Yes, I got a rhyme for Bloemfontein. High fives all round.
1. Nic Henderson, 2. Adam Freier, 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Adam Byrnes, 5. Hugh Pyle, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Tom Chamberlain, 8. Gareth Delve (C), 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Danny Cipriani, 11. Cooper Vuna, 12. James O’Connor, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Lachlan Mitchell, 15. Mark Gerrard
REPLACEMENTS: 16. Luke Holmes, 17. Rodney Blake, 18. Alister Campbell, 19. Jarrod Saffy, 20. Richard Kingi, 21. Lloyd Johansson, 22. Julian Huxley
Stirling Mortlock, Kurtley Beale, Ged Robinson and Michael Lipman are taking the week off with minor niggles. It’s likely you’ll see Jarrod Saffy in a super-sub role for the first couple of weeks, as he’s working through an injury sustained in the pre-season.
As a Rebels fan, it’s great to see Luke Jones and Tom Chamberlain get a go in the starting side. They have both worked extremely hard as part of the squad and have shown excellent pre-season form.
1. Benn Robinson, 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3. Sekope Kepu, 4. Dean Mumm, 5. Kane Douglas, 6. Dave Dennis, 7. Chris Alcock, 8. Wycliff Palu, 9. Sarel Pretorius, 10. Daniel Halangahu (C), 11. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Tom Carter, 13. Rob Horne, 14. Tom Kingston, 15. Bernard Foley
REPLACEMENTS:16. Damien Fitzpatrick, 17. Paddy Ryan, 18. Lopeti Timani, 19. Jono Jenkins, 20. Brendan McKibbin, 21. Brackin Karauria-Henry, 22. Nathan Trist
Former Sevens captain Bernard Foley comes off the bench to deservedly don the No. 15 jersey, after an excellent performance off the bench against the Reds. Adam Ashley-Cooper moves to the wing to make way for Foley. The amazingly-named Nathan Bracken Corolla-Henry is named among the replacements, and in an innovative marketing technique from the Waratahs, for $5,000 you have have your name, or the name of your brand, added to his surname for a match.
The game is being held inside the Stockade at AAMI Park, at 7.40pm on Friday March 2.
For the FOXTEL-inclined, it’ll be shown LIVE on FOX SPORTS 3HD and FOX SPORTS 3.
The last time they met, NSW 28 def MELBOURNE 9, in Round 11 of Super Rugby 2011, at the SFS.
THE GAME BREAKER
To put it simply, this game will be won on the scoreboard.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, stay with me here, folks, I’m not Robbie Deans-ing you. Last year, Melbourne were schooled by a tough Waratahs defence, only letting 9 points in on aggregate, compared to NSW’s 71. The style of play they employed against the Tahs was far too predictable, and the pace of play far too slow, and they paid the price.
To have any chance, Melbourne need to prove that they can score, and score big, against the Waratahs. If trial matches are any indicator, attack should improve markedly, but the Rebels will need to get off to a fast start. They’ll have a slight advantage in the backs through JOC, Inman and a vastly improved Cooper Vuna, and Mark Gerrard has proven in the trials that he’s more than capable of directing play from 15.
To get any ball from the Rebels, the Waratahs will need to dominate in the forward pack and starve the Rebel backs of the ball. A lot of the commentary on this match has assumed NSW pack dominance is a given, but I think the Rebel forwards are criminally under-rated. They held their own in several matches last year, without much of a game plan. Add John Muggleton into the mix and any misconceptions about the Rebel pack being pushovers should be thrown out the window. The Tahs pack will have an advantage, but not by much.
THE FEARLESS PREDICTION
To be truthful, I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen in this match. Most Rebels fans will be happy enough to see an improvement in the team, which I’m certain they will. But will it be enough to stop a jilted and under-manned, but still very skilled Waratahs team?
Whatever happens, I think it’s going to be an absolute blinder.
Rebels by 3.