Preview: Waratahs vs Reds

Preview: Waratahs vs Reds

The Waratahs title defence is down to the wire. One game to go in the regular season with the all-important Second spot on the ladder up for grabs. And its the Reds, the team that used to be their bogey. The team that could play terribly all year and then come to the SFS and play like Champions to knock the Waratahs out of the play-offs. Will they do it again?


The Festival of Hate:

Where did this hate originate? Was it the ‘not good enough’ snubbing of the Queenslanders by NSW in the 60’s? Was it the booing of Glen Ella as he ran out for the Wallabies in his first test in Brisbane? Was it the decade of repeated losses to QLD in the nineties or maybe a spillover from the mungo state of origin? And will we ever mature enough to get beyond it and just treat it as a normal Australian derby? Will the siblings ever stop fighting and grow up?

Who knows. But this game on Saturday is special – always has been, always will be.

The 2015 season:

For the Reds this year will be one to consign to the dustbin of history as quickly as is humanly possible. Several of their greats are leaving and unlikely to return. There have been coaching changes announced and more are mooted. The two star recruits have crashed and burned and will be lucky to make the World Cup squad. Probably only six players have played to their potential – Slipper, Holmes, Gill, Thompson, Kerevi and Turner – and several will want to expunge all trace of this year from their c.v.’s.

The Waratahs have followed their spectacular form last year with some really patchy play. They have managed to win the games they had to; Hurricanes, Brumbies X 2, Crusaders and Cheetahs with real style but have looked vulnerable against tight defensive teams like the Force, Lions and Stormers.

 The match-ups are mouth-watering:

Reds v Waratahs Liam Gill

 Gill vs Hooper:

They may not meet up much on the field because their style of play is so different, but that won’t snuff out the comparison and continue to supply grist to the argument as to who is the better openside. Classic old-style openside play over the ball vs wide-ranging defence and attack with phenomenal speed and power. Both could have a blinder with it still not affecting the match outcome.

Holmes vs Robinson:

The outcome could well seal spots on the RWC squad, or at least for the Rugby Championship. Holmes has looked the Wallaby back-up tighthead prop all this year while Robinson will have to be impressive to lock out Sio and Smith for a plane ticket. With TPN and Skelton back to power the scrum, watch out for the tight five battle all day. It will be worth the ticket admission price all on its own.

Genia vs Phipps:

Raw speed of delivery against the slower, more measured Reds’ attack. The old dog against the young dog. Sometimes Phipps can be wayward on the pass because the gameplan calls for speed of clearance above all else. The contrast in styles with Genia is stark. I think Genia has lost it over the last two years as Gregan did before him. He may well go OK in the northern hemisphere, where the pace is down, but I think he’s been a liability for the Reds all year and one of the key reasons for their table position.

Foley vs Cooper:

Some see this as some kind of dress rehearsal for the RWC, but I don’t see that. Foley will be under less pressure than Cooper because of the speed of Phipps clearance and the speed of the Waratahs rush defence. If Cooper can get it over Foley with the service he gets and the gameplan employed then in my view he should be our best candidate for 10. But I think there is too much lead in the saddlebags. I’d love to see Cooper perform outside Phipps and I hope he gets a chance in the Rugby Championship.

The Potential Gamebreakers:

For the Reds, the gamebreakers are potentially Gill at the breakdown, Thompson everywhere, Simmons at the lineout and Cooper directing traffic. For the Waratahs the gamebreakers are wider out – Beale distributing, Folau and Naiyaravoro running wide and Skelton dragging in tacklers while he offloads to supports. Who is going to step up to the plate first?

 The Gameplan:

The hat works for Bob Katter.

The hat works for Bob Katter.

For the Reds, it could probably be best summed up by the quote “What is this gameplan thing of which ye speak?” Richard Graham is a highly credentialed coach but to watch his team this year leaves you with the clear impression he has channeled Robbie Deans and told everyone “Just go out and play whatever’s in front of you.”

Everyone knows what the Waratah gameplan is, stopping it requires something more than just knowing what’s coming. But the high-pace, high-power game is vulnerable if the players are off the mark in any way. Remembering they are just off the plane from SA means they may not be 100% and that will leave them vulnerable, especially to dropped passes; this has been the key error in their game all season, and particularly evident in their losses.

KMP-WAR-CRU-2565The other key vulnerability for the Waratahs is in the set piece. They might break even in the scrums but they can expect their weak lineout to give up possession all day.

Surprisingly, the Waratahs are the worst in the comp for turnovers won, averaging only five per game. If their lineout and scrum don’t work and they don’t win any turnovers how will they get enough ball to impose themselves on the game?

If the Reds choose not to kick to them then the Waratahs may be in trouble. But the Reds normally kick quite frequently, if not all that well, so the Waratahs may just have to wait to get the possession they need.


As they run out on to Moore Park, the Waratahs will know exactly what they have to do to hold on to second spot and the home semi-final. If the Brumbies beat the Crusaders with a bonus point, I expect that we’ll see another Cheetahs-type game at least until the fourth try is safely banked. If the Brumbies don’t get the bonus point then we will probably see a more conservative approach, similar to this game last year. If the Brumbies lose then it could get quite dour.

I expect the Waratahs to do just what they need to cement their finals position. Waratahs by 5


Statistics by Opta Sports Analysis.


Grew up watching Catchpole and Hawthorne, then later the Ella brothers, on Channel Two on Saturday afternoon. Expert commentary by Cyril Towers. No better rugby education ever to be had.

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