When they fell to the Reds last week, the New South Wales Waratahs lost their ninth straight game. For the Rebels, their loss to the Brumbies was the sixth from their last seven games. Someone’s due for a win.
In the first half of last week’s match, the Waratahs were put in their place by an attacking Reds outfit, but fought back valiantly, throwing the ball wide and running at the Reds. Incredibly, they came back from a 17-3 deficit to tie the game on the hour. Just when it looked like they had momentum, however, they snapped, and fell back into an overly-conservative style of play to lose 25-17. The Tahs showed glimpses of their form in the trials, but still looked like a team trying to get their heads around a new game plan.
The Rebels matched it with the Brumbies for the first sixty minutes of their match last week, leading the game by a point at half-time and contesting well at the breakdown. Injuries to Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor in quick succession left them without any direction out back, and the forwards grew tired as the game continued, conceding nearly all of their forward set plays in the last thirty minutes. The Rebels went scoreless in the second half, whereas the Brumbies put on 18 points, finishing with a comfortable 30-13 win.
As early in the season as it is, for all intents and purposes, the Australian conference already looks a race in two, between the Brumbies and the Reds. Both of these teams need a win to keep up the pressure on the top half of the log – the Rebels face the Reds before travelling to South Africa, while the Tahs face the Brumbies, the Cheetahs and the Blues in three unpredictable games.
NEW SOUTH WALES WARATAHS
1. Benn Robinson, 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3. Sekope Kepu, 4. Mitchell Chapman, 5. Kane Douglas, 6. Dave Dennis (c), 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Wycliff Palu, 9. Brendan McKibbin, 10. Bernard Foley, 11. Drew Mitchell, 12. Tom Carter, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14. Tom Kingston, 15. Israel Folau.
RESERVES: 16. John Ulugia, 17. Jeremy Tilse, 18. Paddy Ryan, 19. Greg Peterson, 20. Lopeti Timani, 21. Matt Lucas, 22. Ben Volavola.
Benn Robinson returns to loose-head after starting the season on the bench. Sitaleki Timani has not recovered from a corked leg sustained against the Reds, and has withdrawn, with Mitchell Chapman running on as lock and Greg Peterson taking a spot on the bench. Adam Ashley-Cooper is expected to recover from a shoulder injury in time to take his place in the starting line-up.
1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Hugh Pyle, 5. Cadeyrn Neville, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Richard Kingi, 12. Rory Sidey, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Lachlan Mitchell ,15. James O’Connor (c).
RESERVES: 16. Shota Horie, 17. Paul Alo-Emile, 18. Jordy Reid, 19. Jarrod Saffy, 20. Nic Stirzaker, 21. Angus Roberts, 22. Tom English
Gareth Delve will be a rare absentee from the side with a minor shoulder injury. Cadeyrn Neville is elevated from the bench into the locks, with Luke Jones moving to blindside flanker and Scott Higginbotham to number eight. Jordy Reid from Manly joins the forwards on the bench for his debut match. James O’Connor will become the third player to captain the Rebels, taking Delve’s place for the round. Kurtley Beale was 50/50 to play earlier in the week, but has pulled up better than expected. Regardless, Angus Roberts, a specialist fly-half, makes his debut on the bench just in case.
This match kicks off at Allianz Stadium, Sydney, on Friday at 7.20pm.
These teams have met four times, the Waratahs saluting on all four occasions, including twice at Allianz.
The last time they met was in round 9 of 2012, with the Waratahs defeating the Rebels 30-21 at Allianz Stadium.
The game will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 and 1HD.
The referee for the match is Rohan Hoffmann, with James Leckie and Ed Martin assisting. Matt Goddard is the TMO.
THE GAME BREAKER
For these two teams to win, it’s all about running rugby through the backs. Both have shown to some degree that they are capable of it, but both are guilty of not delivering it consistently enough. There should be plenty of opportunities to run the ball, so both Beale and Foley will need to be at the best controlling play. Foley especially needs to improve, his passing game against the Reds illustrating how much the Waratahs are missing Berrick Barnes. The Tahs also need to ensure that they defensively support Israel Folau out back. Against the Reds he struggled to close the space between him and his attacker, reverting the the league-style ‘take the hit-up’ method to which he is obviously well acquainted. Should the Rebels enter their attacking 22m, the Tahs need to ensure they get back quickly and defend wide, so that Folau is not overly exposed.
The forward packs will have their work cut out for them to deliver the ball to the backs, and with the Rebels down a Welshman, here the Waratahs have the advantage. The Rebels’ forward pack are no strangers to playing above their weight, but after a bruising encounter against the Brumbies, the minds may be willing but the bodies unable. All the Waratahs need to do is ensure that they don’t waste the advantage in possession that their forward dominance should receive, and it will be a solid win for the home team.
THE FEARLESS PREDICTION
The Rebels have never claimed the Weary Dunlop Shield, and, as much as they have improved in general this year, I don’t believe they will break that streak this round. The Waratahs have a great forward pack , strengthened by the return of Benn Robinson, and through that, they should retain enough possession to control the play, and put a good score on the board.
Waratahs by 20.
Who’s your tip for the Weary Dunlop Shield?