NSW Waratahs

Preview – Waratahs v Highlanders

Preview – Waratahs v Highlanders

The Waratahs will be looking for a bit of revenge after the drubbing the Highlanders gave them in the Super Rugby semi-final last June.

And if the players aren’t saying that, they will feel it, and so will those in the crowd who were there last year.

Highlanders celebrate try in 2015 semi-final

The Form

The Highlanders have been impressive. They played two quality squeakers against other Kiwi teams and came out of that 1-1; then they put away the Lions clinically after the SAffers had beaten the Chiefs in Round 2.

The Waratahs had a good half hour against the Reds but finished flat as they usually do; and then they had a horrible game against the Brumbies who kept them in the contest too long because of their own bad play.

To have a bye in Round 3 is not usually ideal but in this case it may have been a good thing so they could be slapped around a bit for two weeks.

The teams

The Waratahs are missing hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, who broke his arm against the Brumbies, and he will be replaced by Tolu Latu, a promising talent but a serial offender of bonehead quality. Bernard Foley is another Rugby World Cup Wallaby who is still not fit to play.

Wycliff Palu gets his first start of the year

Cliffy Palu will start at no. 8 which is probably a good idea because you can’t be sure how long he will last if he comes on later.

The Highlanders haven’t lost so much test match experience but they will be without a few stalwarts such as utility Banks, 9 Tanaka, THP Hohneck, lock Wheeler, 8 Luke Whitelock and their two big wingers Osborne and Naholo, who is out for the season. At least flanker Christie is deemed fit enough to start the match this week.

The Waratahs have to get back to the basics such as scrummaging well, not pushing the pass and making better decisions—though it’s hard to get back to somewhere they haven’t been this year.

The Highlanders who played better than their scrapbooks indicated in 2015 will just want to play the same as in that semi-final: execute basic rugby well, back up the ball carrier, match up on defence, minimise mistakes, and when the golden moments come, take them.

Comparing Ben Smith (above) with Israel Folau with be worth the price of admission

Key match-ups

Scrum v Scrum

The Waratahs scrum has been embarrassing this year with a 77% success rate on their own scrums, one of the worst, whereas the Clan have one of the best at 89%.

The recruitment of THP Angus Ta’ava’o has not been a success, nor has the switch of Paddy Ryan to the LH side to accommodate him. Ta’avao is frequently penalised at the set piece and has been no great shakes around the park either.

There is more to scrummaging than propping but the Tahs’ fans may take some comfort that their starting props have played 114 Super Rugby games between them and their opponents have a modest 25.

Ben Smith v Israel Folau

Smith is the best fullback in the world in my book and has been the best in Super Rugby over three rounds. Though Izzy is great when match traffic is fast, Smith can zip around parked cars as well. A comparison will be intriguing for the cognoscenti.

Aaron Smith v Nick Phipps

Both these blokes have a bit of toe and one wonders why Phipps doesn’t back himself more. Smith needs no such prompting and scores so many tries from short runs near the goal line with lazy pillars picking their noses or elsewhere, you feel like shouting: “Watch out for the 9 !!”

Watch out for the 9 !!

Why should I bother?

That’s easy for a Tahs fan – look for semi-final revenge, but just hope that your players don’t fall asleep in the second half as they did last year.

And, um, if you can take off your light blue glasses for a while you will be able to watch the power and guile of outside centre Malakai Fekitoa, and the aforementioned excellent Ben Smith.


I’m a bit shy of picking the Waratahs because of their scrum and their 60% goal kicking record (the worst) compared to the Highlanders: one of the best at 82%, due the always-cool Lima Sopoaga.

The Clans’ three ace backs: Smith, Smith and Fekitoa could rip the Tahs apart, but on the other hand they have so many injuries. But wait a minute: Jamie Joseph out-coached Michael Cheika in 2015 so you’d have to back him in 2016 against Gibson.

Wouldn’t you?

Highlanders by 3

Match details

Team lists

Forwards – 1. P. Ryan, 2. T. Latu, 3. A. Ta’avao, 4. D. Mumm, 5. W. Skelton, 6. D. Dennis, 7. M. Hooper (c), 8. W. Palu.
Backs – 9. N. Phipps, 10. K. Beale, 11. Z. Guildford, 12. D. Horwitz, 13. R. Horne, 14. M. Carraro, 15. I. Folau.
Reserves – 16. H. Roach, 17. J. Tilse, 18. T. Robertson, 19. S. Lousi, 20. J. Holloway, 21. J. Dempsey, 22. M. Lucas, 23. R. Robinson.

Forwards – 1. B. Edmonds, 2. L. Coltman, 3. S. Halanukonuka, 4. A. Ainley, 5. T. Franklin, 6. E. Dixon, 7. S. Christie (cc), 8. L. Squire.
Backs – 9. A. Smith, 10. L. Sopoaga, 11. R. Tongia, 12. R. Thompson, 13. M. Fekitoa, 14. M. Faddes, 15. B. Smith (cc).
Reserves – 16. A. Dixon, 17. D. Lienert-Brown, 18. R. Geldenhuys, 19. M. Reddish, 20. G. Evans, 21. J. Renton, 22. H. Parker 23. J. Emery.

Date : Friday 18 March 2016
Venue : Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:45 AEDT
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant Ref 1: James Leckie
Assistant Ref 2: Graham Cooper
TMO : Ian Smith

Stats by Opta Sports

NSW Waratahs

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