For the first time ever the NSW Waratahs will play a home Super Rugby game away from Sydney when they travel north to face the Sunwolves in Newcastle.
Fresh off ending the longest win streak in Super Rugby history last week and sitting pretty at the top of the Australian conference, confidence around the NSW base at Daceyville is through the roof. The Waratah’s defense which they have dubbed ‘The Blue Wall’ strangled the previously unbeaten Crusaders at the SCG forcing them into a very uncharacteristic error ridden performance. A lot of praise has been heaped on new Welsh defence coach Steve Tandy midweek after allowing the Crusaders just 12 points, which included a try off a blatant forward pass and another after the full time siren.
Just over 24 hours after hearing their Super Rugby journey would all come to an end in 2021 the Sunwolves marched out in Singapore to face the might of the Lions. Despite leading 7-0 they eventually succumbed to a 3rd successive loss going down 37-24, thereby slipping to last on the overall Super Rugby ladder. The historic win over the Chiefs in Hamilton seems a long time ago for the embattled franchise. Having said that a last ditch Karmicheal Hunt charge down attempt was the difference between these sides when they met in round 2 so don’t expect all one-way traffic on a warm evening in the Hunter.
Key Match Ups
Micheal Wells vs Rahbboni Warren-Vosayaco
After 32 minutes off the bench last week and with former classmate Jack Dempsey resting due to Wallabies commitments, Micheal Wells has been rushed back into the starting side to face the men from Tokyo. The hard-hitting number 8 will be desperate to prove he hasn’t lost any physicality upon returning from his stint with the Aussie sevens side. His opposite number is fellow Aussie Rahboni Warren – Vosayaco who was in devastating form last week scoring 2 tries and making 9 tackles. It was the sort of hard running display that would have had Micheal Cheika and his two squires sit up and take notice. Whispers are also circling that Japan coach Jamie Joseph is very interested in the 23 year old former Australian schoolboy, and with his eligibility for Japan coming through mid
Mack Mason vs Hayden Parker
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has also opted to give Bernard Foley his mandatory rest week thereby handing Mack Mason his 2nd ever Waratahs start, almost 2 years to the day he last ran out in the sky-blue number 10 shirt. He will be eager to improve that a couple of seasons in the Shute shield have enhanced his game and he is ready to step up when Foley inevitably moves on next season. On the other side of the field New Zealand born Hayden Parker has been in fine form throughout 2019 and will be eager to make amends for his missed drop kick in round 2.
Just four personnel changes to the Waratahs side that knocked the Crusaders off their perch last weekend with three of those occurring due to Wallaby rest allocations. The aforementioned Mack Mason and Micheal Wells will start in place of Bernard Foley and Jack Dempsey. Elsewhere Karmicheal Hunt returns at outside centre in place of Adam Ashley-Cooper while the aggressive Lachlan Swinton will join Wells and captain Hooper in a new-look back row. This sees Ned Hanigan shifting into the 2nd row in place of Jed Holloway who is out with a rib injury. Israel Folau’s 112kg younger brother John, is set for his debut after being named as a late inclusion on the bench.
The big news out of the Japanese camp is that disgraced number 8 Amanaki Mafi will not make the trip down under after a visa issue prevented him from entering the country. In other team news Hendrik Tui returns at blindside flanker, while bruising lock Uwe Helu has been promoted to start.
WARATAHS (15-1): Israel Folau, Cam Clark, Karmichael Hunt, Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Mack Mason, Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (c), Lachlan Swinton, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes
Reserves: Andrew Tuala, Rory O’Connor, Chris Talakai, Ryan McCauley, Tom Staniforth, Jake Gordon, Lalakai Foketi, John Folau
SUNWOLVES (15-1): Ryohei Yamanaka, Gerhard van den Heever, Jason Emery, Harumichi Tatakawa, Semisi Masirewa, Hayden Parker, Kaito Shigeno, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Dan Pryor (c), Hendrik Tui, Uwe Helu, Grant Hattingh, Jiwon Koo, Jaba Bregvadze, Pauliasi Manu
Reserves: Nathan Vella, Masataka Mikami, Takuma Asahara, Mark Abbott, Kara Pryor, Fumiaki Tanaka, Takuya Yamasawa, Josh Timu
With only four points separating all Aussies sides on the conference ladder, Daryl Gibson will know his men can’t afford to drop any points against the Sunwolves. Despite resting key players and not to mention the almighty scare the Sunwolves provided in round 2 the Waratahs will be confident of a comfortable win in front of a big crowd of Novacastrians. They won’t have it all their own way and the Sunwolves are certainly capable of pulling off a shock win, but ultimately the understrength Tahs should get the better of this one.
Waratahs by 12.