Match Preview: Waratahs v Lions - Green and Gold Rugby
NSW Waratahs

Match Preview: Waratahs v Lions

Match Preview: Waratahs v Lions

The under-fire Waratahs will be looking to get their season back on track as they trek out to Paramatta to take on the Lions at Bankwest Stadium this Friday night. The Waratahs are languishing at the bottom of the Australia conference and face a tough test from the Johannesburg outfit, who, despite their early season blip, have not lost to the Waratahs since 2014.



The Waratahs form, or lack of, has been nothing short of disastrous. The post-world cup exodus of key players has opened up some noticeable cracks in the line-up as coach Rob Penney mixes and matches a squad teeming with experience and rawness. Rookies Will Harrison (flyhalf), Angus Bell (prop) and Mark Nawaqanitase (wing) have performed admirably in trying circumstances with the finger being pointed at the performances of senior players; the likes of Simmons, Beale, Dempsey and Hunt.

Whilst not being wiped off the park, the Waratahs have been convincingly beaten in the first three rounds.

First, it was a hot Crusaders outfit that scorched the Tahs in Nelson. A double to rookie Nawaqanitase wasn’t enough as the Crusaders, in true Crusaders fashion, pounced on several missed opportunities and turnovers to finish 43-26 victors.

More disappointing was the wretched “home” game against the Blues where a meagre 7,491 Novacastrians turned out in a gloomy Newcastle to watch the Tahs go down 31-12.

The worst start to a season in their history only got worse with the Rebels’ first win over the Waratahs since 2016. An eight-minute double to former Waratahs wing Andrew Kellaway took the game away from the Tahs after half-time, and they weren’t able to claw back the deficit.

Should the Waratahs come up short on Friday, they will increase their winless streak to six matches stretching back to last season with the pressure sure to mount on rookie coach Rob Penney.

Photo Credit Brendan Hertel / QRU

Photo Credit Brendan Hertel / QRU


The Lions squad has faced a major overhaul since last season, losing 25 players over the off-season. Many of the departed were core the Lions successful run over the last 5 years which included 3 consecutive Super Rugby final appearances. The loss of Springboks’ Malcolm Marx, Kwagga Smith, Warren Whiteley, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrink and Apiwhe Dyanti has kicked off a transition period for Lions. The squad has some largely unrecognisable names to the Aussie viewer but are now led by the well-known wildest haircut in Super Rugby, Elton Jantjies.

The result has been some early season jitters, starting the season 1-2. They kicked off their season with a pantsing 38-8 loss against the Jaguares in South America, followed by a return-to-home victory over the Queensland Reds. The Lions then came agonisingly close to toppling the conference-leading Stormers in their last round, falling short 33-30 after a try on the buzzer, before coming into the bye.

Their mixed results are hard to judge. They would have expected a comfortable victory over the Reds who still tested the Lions for 80min, but their performances against more-fancied rivals could be graded as deplorable and admirable, respectively. The Lions will want to establish consistency this round and the hapless Waratahs may be the perfect opportunity to do so.

Key Match-up

Much of the focus of Friday’s match-up will be on two dynamic attacking forces, the respective fullbacks, Kurtley Beale and Andries Coetzee. The two internationally-capped custodians hold the key to unlocking fast, running rugby with dry conditions expected in Parramatta on Friday night. In such conditions, the Waratahs will likely look to get Kurtley early ball to create space for his outside backs, and poke holes in a stretched Lions backline. Don’t be surprised to see Kurtley move in and out of first receiver to take pressure off rookie flyhalf Harrison. Many punters are still uncertain of the new 10, and calls for Kurtley to move to five-eighth may not be far off, given the Waratahs’ greater depth in the outside backs compared to the flyhalf position.

Coetzee has been out of Springbok reckoning since 2017 but the long-locked fullback will have his eyes on a return to the national outfit following the usual post-world cup exodus of Springboks to retirement or Japan. Coetzee has been a consistent attacking threat for the Lions all through their recent dominant history, and the pressure will be on him to light a spark for the backline. That period of recent success was characterised by a traditionally non-South African style of play, counter-attacking from all over the pitch led by the likes of Jantjies, Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe and Ruan Combrink. If the Lions wish to be amongst the top brass of the South African conference come season’s end, much will rely on Andries Coetzee recreating his attacking class, 2016-2018 style.

Team news

Both teams had a bye in Round 4.

For the Waratahs, Holloway moves to the bench and Lachie Swinton comes back into the starting line-up at blindside flanker. Cam Clark has been left out of the squad, with Mark Nawaqanitase coming back into the starting line-up on the wing and James Ramm coming onto the bench for a potential debut.

There is a swap at hooker, with Jan-Henning Campher coming on to replace Pieter Jansen. Carlu Sadie earns a start at tight-head prop replacing former Springbok Jannie du Plessis with Frans van Wyk coming into the reserves. Andrew Warner is the new man at scrumhalf with Hacjivah Dayimani retaining his spot on the bench. Flyer Courtnall Skosan is out, with speedster Jamba Ulenga coming in.

Michael Hooper changes direction.

Michael Hooper changes direction.

Past 5 meetings

Lions 29 – Waratahs 28 (Ellis Park, 11/05/19)

Lions 44 – Waratahs 26 (Ellis Park, Semi Final, 28/07/18)

Lions 29 – Waratahs 0 (Allianz Stadium, 20/04/18)

Lions 55 – Waratahs 36 (Ellis Park, 04/03/17)

Lions 27 – Waratahs 22 (Ellis Park, 30/05/2015)


There’s a lot on the line considering the time of the season. The Waratahs will be motivated to arrest their early season slide but the Lions will be hungry and will certainly smell the blood of their wounded and desperate opponent. I will be taking the away-side. Lions by 12 points.




1. Angus Bell

2. Robbie Abel

3. Harry Johnson-Holmes

4. Tom Staniforth

5. Rob Simmons

6. Lachie Swinton

7. Michael Hooper

8. Jack Dempsey

9. Jake Gordon

10. Will Harrison

11. Jack Maddocks

12. Karmichael Hunt

13. Alex Newsome

14. Mark Nawaqanitawase

15. Kurtley Beale


16. Damien Fitzpatrick

17. Tom Robertson

18. Tetera Faulkner

19. Jed Holloway

20. Ryan McCauley

21. Mitch Short

22. Lalakai Foketi

23. James Ramm


1. Dylan Smith

2. Jan-Henning Campher

3. Carlu Sadie

4. Ruben Schoeman

5. Marvin Orie

6. Marnus Schoeman

7. Vincent Tshituka

8. Len Massyn

9. Andre Warner

10. Elton Jantjies (c)

11. Jamba Ulenga

12. Dan Kriel

13. Manuel Rass

14. Tyrone Green

15. Andries Coetzee


16. Pieter Jansen

17. Sithembiso Sithole

18. Frans van Wyk

19. Willem Alberts

20. Wilhelm van der Sluys

21. Hacjivah Dayimani

22. Morne van den Berg

23. Wandisile Simelane


Date: Friday 28 February
Venue: Bankwest Stadium
Kick-Off: 7.15pm AEDT
Referee: Angus Gardner

  • Pedro

    The tags finally get a legit home town match albeit in the West. They’re a good chance given the bye leading into this match.

    I think the tahs might be up for it, but will the fans?

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      I don’t. The Lions aren’t great but as long as HJH is at tighthead and Beale is at fullback the Tahs have two huge weaknesses that are just so easy to exploit.

      • Mica

        Harsh on HJH. Not the best THP, but definitely not the worst (and he’s very early in his career).

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          He’s not the best LHP. He’s been really poor at THP so far. He’s smallish for a loosehead, terribly unfair for him to have to play at THP.

        • Mica

          Good catch DBTB regarding size.
          I didn’t realise he’s a bit underweight for a prop.
          He needs to probably put on another 10 kegs.
          I still reckon I’ve seen worse THPs though….. :)

        • Howard

          He’s been listed as 111kgs for the last 3 years. He’s a lot bigger than he was as a 20 year old. Plus he’s only played 2 games this year (virus v Saders) He had a tough baptism against the Blues, but held his own against the Rebels and scored the Tahs only try, so really poor might be a stretch, particularly compared to his team mates

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          The Rebels’ scrum is really poor, and the Tahs still got eaten. HJH was barely keeping his side up.

          HJH was a weak scrummager at LHP, despite it being much easier to scrum there for a man of his size. Remember how much the Tahs scrum improved last year when Robertson (not exactly a strong scrummager himself) came back and replaced him? Now we seriously expect him to play THP, despite being very much on the small size for a modern LHP.

          No wonder it isn’t working. The sooner this experiment is ended the better. It will be better for both HJH and the Tahs if he is allowed to return to being a LHP. I think he could be a really dynamic loosened one day.

    • Mart

      Dear god Newsome at 13 again for farks sake

      • Pedro

        He’s exactly the kind of player old school coaches think should be in 13.

    • Tedward

      that’s a no from me. Went to 2 games there last year, great stadium, fifteen minutes from home but my doctor says I should not subject myself to such stress, All downhill since 2014 and this lot look clueless

  • KwAussie Rugby Lover

    Thanks Adam. Certainly some worries but I think you’re a tad pessimistic here. Tahs should have this one but they need to let Harrison control the game not anyone else. I’d personally have Beale on the bench but other than that they’ve got the better team. So Tahs by 5

  • Baylion

    6 Lions and 11 Tahs played 2 years ago in the 29-0 whitewash by the Lions

  • Keith Butler

    Hadn’t realised the Lions had lost so many players. Obviously money talks. Not sure that the Lions will win by 12. Tahs should take this one but it will be close.

  • Brumby Runner

    If the Tahs lose this one, they will go a long way to establishing themselves as the real deal for the wooden spoon.

    Very disappointing comments from Penney during the week about his young players. They will be the targets to be replaced if things don’t go well, even though he seems to have recognised that his so called established stars are not playing up to scratch. He really should have rewarded the better players from the Tahs A game this week but the indication is that he will revert to the tried and failed if any changes are to be made.

    • Steve

      I’m not disagreeing but I find this to be very strange BR – What allegiance would Penney have to the NSW old guard?

      Logically you’d think a new coach would be desperate to bring in and establish new stars under their watch.

      • Brumby Runner

        I agree with your logic Steve, but Penney’s words seem to indicate he will revert. I’m guessing he is unsure of himself as a head coach and unwilling to take the risks (to his career) associated with sacking the established players in favour of a few more newbies.

        • KwAussie Rugby Lover

          That’s a bit of a worry for me too. I would have thought it’d be the perfect time to bring in newbies. Hope Rennie’s not thinking the same

    • Crescent

      I suspect that Penney is boxing a little bit clever with those statements as well. In effect, it gives him a chance to do some more development of the young talent by pulling them out of the spotlight for a bit.

      The blowtorch really needs to be applied to the old guard, particularly in the forwards. Too light on, not enough application in doing the basic function of their position first and foremost, makes it incredibly hard for the backs to flourish. Some adversity will be good in seasoning the young fellas, but at some point, if the platform will not be set for them this season, pulling them out of the front line can shield them from developing a losing mentality. Mason gets to go under the bus for Harrison, which is a crying shame.

      Will also comment that Nawaqanitawase, with obvious skill on attack, needs to put some serious work on his defence skill set if we wants to live up to his potential.

      With the deficiencies of our pack laid bare, two poor defenders in the back three, I have to go with the belief that Lions can pull a win on Friday – assuming they have used the bye week wisely to get on top of the travel factor.

  • Nutta

    It would be hard work being in the Tarts organisation right now.

    What I would like to see is some structural basics from the Tarts. I would welcome simple elemental stuff like an approach to play that shows respect for the ball, smart field position, some really solid set-piece work and a defensive line that doesn’t drop off first-tackles but holds. I’m not really one to buy into the whole “they play with no spirit” stuff because to play at that level you have to been playing hard or you just didn’t get there in the first place. The difference between win and loss is seriously 1% or 2% either way. So it’s actually more structural about who have you recruited, developed, gelled them into a cohesive unit and have you put them on the field with a game-plan and structures that work.

    Individually the Tarts have some talent (and I especially rate what little I’ve seen of Swinton) and over time they will improve if allowed to. I hope they are allowed to for Aust rugby sake (I hate saying it but we need a strong NSW and the Wobblies always do better when we do). But whilst I always back an Aussie team over another – and I think this game will be close – I just can’t see the Tarts doing it even with the Big Cats being similarly gutted after the last Bill.

    • Brumby Runner

      Nutta, I don’t think any other Super sides have been “similarly gutted” to what happened at the Lions. Closest would be one or two of the other SA sides, I reckon. Losing Kepu (over the hill – would have been replaced by HJH at some time anyway), Latu (a real loss), AAC (over the hill), Foley (never impressive at 10) and Phipps (about to be replaced by Gordon at the Tahs in any case) equates to the severity of the Lions’ losses. I am disregarding TPN who had been replaced by Latu and Folau who left for reasons not related to playing skills or form.

      Certainly, overall, a huge hole left in the experienced players ranks but form-wise hard to say too many of them would be starters if they had stayed.

  • Adrian

    Tahs are bookies favourites with 3.5 points start.

    I’m not tripping them, but hope I’m wrong.

    Surely this is the last chance for all of the forwards except Hooper, and the cataincy of Simmons

    I expect that they (forwards) got a monumental rocket, and I suspect that the backs in defense did blindside 101 and maintain your width 101

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