Round 2 – Sunday 23 February, 2014
The Waratahs and the Force begin their Super Rugby seasons with a Sunday afternoon clash at Allianz Stadium.
With an exciting backline named, the Waratahs will be hoping that the rain that has drenched Sydney this week goes away and they get a chance to play some running rugby. The main talking point in the Waratahs side is the selection of Kurtley Beale in the 12 jersey in his first Super Rugby match since returning to Sydney.
If 2013 taught us anything it’s that Michael Foley likes to keep his cards close to his chest, and his team sheets even closer, and is yet to announce his side.
This fixture has proven to be something of a banana skin game for the Waratahs in recent years. Last year they were lucky to scrape home 23-19 and in 2012 they were defeated by a far more committed Force team in a wet game. If we delve back into the history books a few years, who can forget the 16-all draw in 2007 which ended with Lote Tuqiri pushing his own teammate and recent Western Force player, Sam Norton-Knight after he took a quick tap penalty on full time within goal kicking range.
Both Michael Foley and Michael Cheika enter their second years in charge with high expectations. Foley will be hoping his prodigious inside centre, Kyle Godwin kicks on from his stellar 2013 and can form a strong partnership with new fly half Zack Holmes.
Cheika has an envious team on paper and will be hoping the Tahs can build on their 2013 improvement and mix it with the competition heavyweights in 2014.
With Kurtley Beale named at 12, fans are licking their lips for the match-up against Kyle Godwin. Beale is new to the position but showed some strong form in the trials.
Coach Cheika is excited by the partnership between Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale at 10 and 12 but admits the combination could take time to develop. Force fans meanwhile seem pretty happy with the announcement of Beale in the midfield and will be hoping that their man Godwin makes life hell for him in defence.
Both players are returning from off-season shoulder surgery and their shoulders are sure to be tested on Sunday afternoon. Godwin will be looking to put the hurt on the Tahs backs with his strong defence and KB will be desperate to stop the Force’s most dangerous player from getting one over him.
The backrow battle promises to be immense with the star studded Waratahs’ backrow of Dennis, Hooper and Palu up against the Force trio of Hodgson, McCalman and either Cottrell or Alcock.
One constant for the Western Force in 2013 was how well their backrow competed against far more fancied opposition. Rarely outplayed, the Force flankers will be looking to make life hell for the Tahs at the breakdown and starve the Waratahs backline of quality ball.
After playing much of 2013 together in 6 and 7, the partnership of Hodgson and Alcock looks likely to be broken by Angus Cottrell who could wear the 6 jersey with
Hodgson reverting back to his favoured openside flanker position. Cottrell has been impressive in preseason and is building nicely on a strong 2013. The grandson of former Wallabies captain, ‘Notchy’ Cottrell could be set for big things in the next couple of years.
Michael Hooper will be looking to lead the Tahs’ backrow with plenty of support from Palu and Dennis who both had strong preseasons. Hooper’s form in last week’s trial was ominous and he’ll be looking to show why he was the Wallabies’ openside flanker last year.
The Waratahs forward pack should prove too strong for their Force opponents and will be looking to provide a solid platform and plenty of ball for the electrifying backline to do their stuff.
The Force will look to compete with their more fancied opposition and starve the Tahs of territory and possession. Early points will be needed to maintain pressure on the Waratahs and the Force will be hoping that chances arise that key players like Cummins and Godwin are capable of capitalising on.
The team lists for this game and all Super Rugby matches in Round 2 can be seen here.
Photos by Lee Grant