Match Preview: Highlanders vs Waratahs - Green and Gold Rugby
NSW Waratahs

Match Preview: Highlanders vs Waratahs

Match Preview: Highlanders vs Waratahs

The Waratahs travel across to wet and windy Invercargill to face the Highlanders with the two rivals hopes of finals football all but dead and buried after disappointing losses in the penultimate regular season round.

The Form

The Waratahs and the Highlander both let golden opportunities slip last weekend in their quests for a semi-final spot. The Tahs were humbled at home by the conference-leading Brumbies while the Highlanders blew a late lead to draw with the Bulls in Dunedin. It left both sides sitting short of the top 8 and requiring a miracle if they were to kit up for some knockout football next weekend.

The Waratahs have won the last two encounters against Aaron Mauger’s men including a famous come from behind semi-final victory, in their last ever game at the Sydney football stadium in 2018.

Teams Changes

Perhaps the one positive to come from the fact the Tahs season is on life support is that it saved Daryl Gibson a massive headache and allowing him to avoid serious conjecture and rest his five key Wallabies. As highlighted by the NZ born coach during the week, Friday night’s game is an excellent opportunity for some young, fresh faces to step up and prove they are ready to take over the reins with a number of stalwarts moving on. Harry Johnson-Holmes, Will Miller, and Hugh Sinclair have been handed rare starts in the pack lining up in place of Sekope Kepu, Micheal Hooper and Rob Simmons. It’s a huge night for Mack Mason who gets a chance to atone for his shocker against the Sunwolves earlier this year, with the 22-year-old named at 10, partnering Nick Phipps in the halves. Foketi and Ashley-Cooper remain in the centres, while Alex Newsome will get a chance to impress in his preferred position of fullback in the absence of Kurtley Beale.

Mack Mason.

Mack Mason – remember him?

Disappointing news for the Highlanders faithful with one of their favourite sons,  Ben Smith unfairly robbed of a farewell game having being ruled out with a hamstring injury. Josh McKay will line-up at fullback, while Teihorangi Walden comes into the centres.


Aaron Smith vs Nick Phipps

Waratahs club captain Nick Phipps pulls on his beloved sky blue for the last time when he faces off with old rival Aaron Smith. After 6 years with the Tahs Phipps has opted to join just about everyone else at London Irish in the English Premiership next season. He will leave a lasting legacy as the ultimate competitor who wasn’t the most talented halfback of all time but one whose effort and intensity could never be questioned postgame. Smith, on the other hand, is one of the few Southern Hemisphere veterans who has decided to stay on after the World Cup, much to the relief of Highlanders fans. He will be looking for a big performance leading into the international season, particularly with good friend and longtime rival TJ Perenara biting down at his heels in the race for the All Black 9 jersey.

Aaron Smith, Aaron Smithing.

Aaron Smith, Aaron Smithing.


HIGHLANDERS (15-1): Josh McKay, Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, James Lentjes, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone

Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Dickson, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks

WARATAHS (15-1): Alex Newsome, Cam Clark, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Lalakai Foketi, Curtis Rona, Mack Mason, Nick Phipps, (c), Michael Wells, Will Miller, Hugh Sinclair, Tom Staniforth, Ned Hanigan, Tom Robertson, Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes

Reserves: Andrew Tuala, Rory O’Connor, Shambeckler Vui, Ryan McCauley, Jed Holloway, Jack Dempsey, Jake Gordon, Tautalatasi Tasi


After a year full of controversy, you get the feeling the Waratahs are desperate to put season 2019 behind them. After watching the Rebels vs Crusaders game last weekend an Aussie team heading across the ditch with an understrength to kiwi side with a point to prove doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence. I get the feeling that perhaps the only thing saving them from being on the wrong end of a cricket score is the weather forecast, with the Highlanders accustomed to playing in pristine conditions under the roof in Dunedin.

Highlanders by 14…

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Thanks Oliver, I think you’ve nailed it and it’s going to be a big ask for the newbies to step up. Mason will be feeling the pressure after the negative press he got last time he started and this may push him to play a blinder. I think Gibson’s management of Mason and others is diabolical and is an essential part of the problems the Tahs have had this year. Now with everything on the line he finally rests his top players, has Newsome playing 15 for the first time ever in Super rugby and Mason getting his 2nd start in 4 years (I think). What absolute shit management. Not surprised there is no accountability for this as I’m not sure NSW and RA understand what the word means but it’s a disgrace.

    I wouldn’t worry about the weather affecting the Highlanders, every Kiwi rugby player feels more at home in the mud, wind and rain than they do in the dry so it’ll be good.

    • Sevenwithasixonmyback

      And I sometimes think the ‘Tahs feel quite at home with a cosy fire and a pint or two in a Paddington pub, so a Highlanders win this week, methinks.
      Congrats to Nicky Phipps for a great career with NSW. A captaincy to see him out is nice.

      • Geoffro

        Nick is probaby banned from most of the Paddo pubs in the interest of keeping them unwatered.Luck to him though hes been a good servant of the Tahs

        • AllyOz

          I suggest he gives the cow suit a rest this weekend. If he goes out in Invercargill dressed like that he might wake up on Sunday morning with his teats in an automatic milking machine

        • Geoffro

          Sounds painful,specially as he has a prob keeping that extra teat in his pants when hes had a few

  • Geoffro

    Bender will be the water boy [if they need any notwithstanding the Invercargill weather] and will get his fair share of cheers when he runs onto the paddock.If the game was in Dunedin I’d expect the landers backs to run riot but if the weather is typical theyll probably spend the evening freezing their bollocks off

  • Crescent

    I can’t help but feel that Mason has been given a poisoned chalice. Now that Gibson’s chickens have finally come home to roost for his diabolical mismanagement of the resting policy, Mason is unlikely to be able to shine from behind a pack that is unlikely to be giving good, clean, front foot ball.

    Whilst I will be sneaking away from the work desk shortly to ensure I am safely ensconced in the man cave for kick off and wanting the Tahs to burgle a win, the rational part of my brains says Highlanders by plenty.

    The final insult from the Tahs organisation to we, the dwindling base of supporters, who bothered to put our hands in our pockets to follow them around the grounds to watch them dither and under perform, has been the failure to hold anyone to account for the post 2014 mess. Hiding behind the Voldemort controversy is simply wall papering over the shattered structural beams. To torture a set of metaphors, the Emperor is naked. Couldn’t drink this season pretty, and my liver knows, I certainly tried.

    Random, false and completely unhinged conspiracy theory – Gibson’s failure to rest his “wallaby” contingent is because even he doesn’t believe they are worthy of a gold jersey – a ready made defence had they somehow managed to be a banana skin to the Brumbies last weekend…..

    • AllyOz

      I think its a lot to ask for players like Mason to be asked to perform behind a pack that is less than the best that NSW could put up with the Wallabies players rested. Why not do as others did and give 1 or 2 odd players a rest at various times throughout the year.

      There was an opportunity to involve the whole squad in the season and make them all feel part of it by giving everyone a role throughout but now its like, well we’re f*&^ed now so we’ll just give the bunnies a run. Contrast that with how the Brumbies have accommodated for missing key players like Pocock through the year – in their case the Brumbies showed faith in their less well known players and that faith has been returned.

      I think the culture at NSW might need a review. I also think Phipps shitcanning a bloke he used to play with and who is still on good terms with some of the current tahs should have prohibited him from the capacity. it showed a lack of discipline and maturity for me. I admire Phipps as a player, he has always been a wholehearted performer and I imagine he must be a strong trainer given his performance on the field. I will particularly remember his test on the wing for the Wallabies. But to my mind he has been eclipsed by Jake Gordon and should have spent most of the year coming off the bench.

      • Crescent

        I find it difficult to take much a man who pissed on a public bar has to say seriously about other team members behavior.

        I thought Gibson should not have had his contract extended, and this season has done nothing to suggest that was a good decision.

        Agree the whole setup needs a clean out. Don’t think a broom can do the job. Possibly petrol and matches are required.

        • AllyOz

          or a nuclear solution….

  • teach

    The Highlanders may play in the stadium, but they train outside. Hoping playing away from the stadium will effect them is wishful thinking.

  • Bernie Chan

    Far out…just turned on the broadcast…5 tries conceded by the Tahs in 35mins!

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    So watching the game and Tahs aren’t looking good then after half time Gibson brings on Holloway and takes off Staniforth, the only forward actually getting some go forward and leaving that powder puff Hanigan on. Now maybe it’s something to appease Cheika I don’t know but what a dumb swap in the context of this game

NSW Waratahs

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