With every loss another nail goes into the Waratahs’ coffin, and there have been a lot of nails this season.
Tonight’s game against the Bulls at home is a real must-win for the Tahs. To be any chance of making the finals they can only afford to lose against the Stormers in South Africa, and even then their chances of either topping the Aussie conference or picking up a ‘wildcard’ finals berth seem slim.
Coach Foley (pretty poor nickname, please suggest alternatives below) has made a number of changes to the Tahs side. In his first start for the year, Rocky is back in the number six jersey and will captain the side. He’s going to have to play damn well to keep his place though, as Dave Dennis has excelled all season.
Sarel Pretorius is back in the starting line-up as well, and his knowledge of the Saffa way should be helpful in breaking down the Bulls (although any talk he can crack the lineout calls is nonsense, it’s not like the Bulls will just be saying ‘it’s going to two’ in Afrikaans).
Pretorius and Barnes will be working with a new centre combo in AAC at 12 and Rob Horne outside him. I’m yet to be convinced AAC’s distribution skills are up to it, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Halangahu slotting in at 12 on occasion to support ole Sookface and get the ball wide.
The other big change is the loss of TPN, who has again managed to damage his brain box while playing into some very good form. Ulugia is able and willing but definitely not to Tatafu’s standard and the loss in the pack will be noticed.
Fortunately for the Tahs, the Bulls have a heap of their own injury worries in the forwards and also have an untried centre combination, so you’d think that’s where the Tahs will try and break through them as often as possible.
15. Daniel Halangahu, 14. Tom Kingston, 13. Rob Horne, 12. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 11. Atieli Pakalani, 10. Berrick Barnes, 9. Sarel Pretorius, 8. Wycliff Palu, 7. Chris Alcock, 6. Rocky Elsom (C), 5. Kane Douglas, 4. Dean Mumm, 3. Sekope Kepu, 2. John Ulugia, 1. Benn Robinson
Replacements: 16. John Mann-Rea, 17. Jeremy Tilse, 18. Sitaleki Timani, 19. Lopeti Timani, 20. Dave Dennis, 21. Brendan McKibbin, 22. Tom Carter
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Akona Ndungane, 13. Johann Sadie, 12. Francois Venter, 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Morne Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Pierre Spies (C), 7. CJ Stander, 6. Deon Stegmann, 5. Juandre Kruger, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 3. Werner Kruger, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1. Dawie Steyn
Replacements: 16. Willie Wepener, 17. Rayno Gerber, 18. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19. Arno Botha, 20. Jano Vermaak, 21. Louis Fouche, 22. JJ Engelbrecht
Kick-off: 7.40pm at Allianz Stadium, Sydney.
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Ian Smith, Francisco Pastrana
TMO: George Ayoub
The real question is can the Tahs finally put a complete game together? Will those final passes stick, will the (mostly) individual defensive lapses stop?
If they can get these relatively minor errors out of their game and get some sort of flowing combination going in the backs then the game should be theirs. Don’t get me wrong, the Bulls are never going to be easybeats, but if all the pieces finally come together the Waratahs can and will put them away.
And if it doesn’t happen tonight, it really will be game over.
The Fearless Prediction
In this final throw of the dice, with untried centres, a new captain and the usual gamut of injuries it will finally all come together for the Tahs and they’ll put the game away with a four-try bonus point and seal victory by half time.
Tahs by 15.
What’s your call?