Preview and key match-ups: Waratahs vs Lions - Green and Gold Rugby
British & Irish Lions

Preview and key match-ups: Waratahs vs Lions

Preview and key match-ups: Waratahs vs Lions

What difference a few days make. At the beginning of the week this fixture was looking like another speed hump for the Lions. Now, with the injection of four front line Waratahs – two from the sevens camp (Foley, Lucas) and two from the Wallabies (Dennis, Horne) – it’s looking much more like a banana skin.

So here then, are the key matchups.

No bullshit: Cheika vs Gatland

Cheika - not that nasty

Cheika – what you looking at?

Just about everyone in Australia saw or heard Michael Cheika yesterday. I saw him at Laffo’s Long Lunch he spoke with the no-nonsense confidence we’ve come to expect, and that has been embodied in the Waratah’s approach to the game this year.

Would he have picked his best side in Michael Foley’s position? Yes, even if they had to play a game the very next day.

What drove Ewen McKenzie’s game plan last weekend? The desire to do the opposite to Robbie Deans!

How will the Waratahs play on Saturday? The same way we’ve played all year.

For those of you who’ve missed  that gameplan, it’s a super high tempo, multi phase, ball in hand approach that even the Crusaders couldn’t stick with in the first half of their clash a few weeks back. If there are questions about the Lions ability to live with such pace, they should be fully aired this weekend.

Watching the Force / Waratahs match last weekend showed that it’s not just the first XV that can play to this plan – Cheika and his assistants have embued it into the whole squad. Will it crack the Lions open, or run itself into a standstill?

The battle to avoid the breakdown: Dennis vs Heaslip

Dave Dennis is tackled by Kieran Read

As discussed in a previous article, the Tahs attack pattern relies on pods of forwards smashing and recycling quickly in midfield. This pattern works best when Dave Dennis’ involvement rate is up and facilitating this quick recycle. It also puts him into the role of leading from the front, which has largely worked well for the Tahs this year.

As well as offering his wide channel running power in attack, the Lions 8 Jamie Heaslip will be doing his best to slow this ruck ball and turn it into the sort of shit-fight his Ireland team mate and ogre Paul O’Connell loves.

On the toe: Foley vs Sexton

Covered in snakes

Foley – a blur

Of the names added back to the Waratahs squad, this is the one made the biggest difference. A few English hacks confused him as some sort of Sevens ring-in, when in fact he’s been the starting 10 for NSW all season (having played 1,107 of the 1,120 minutes possible) and instrumental to their style of play.

Foley has run more metres (869) than any other fly-half in Super Rugby and his first instinct is to take on the line. Over the season his distribution and tactical kicking has improved and it will be intriguing to see whether he can take advantage of the space the Lions back-line defensive structure leaves behind their wingers, as discussed in our latest podcast (below).

Opposite him will be the Lions test choice five-eighth Jonathan Sexton. This man does have it all when it comes to his attacking game – an uncanny nose for space whether it’s with ball in hand or off the boot. What will be more interesting will be to see how he copes with Will Skelton rumbling down his channel, and of course Duncan McRae off the bench….


As Cheika himself said, these additions now give the Tahs a shot. Reality is though that they’re still a sub-par version of a super team that won’t even be making the finals this year. Expect the Lions firepower to be too much for the blues in the second half. But if they’re within touching distance on the donger, you just never know…..

NSW Waratahs

1.    Jeremy Tilse (Sydney University, vc)
2.    John Ulugia (Eastern Suburbs)
3.    Paddy Ryan (Sydney University)
4.    Will Skelton (Sydney University)
5.    Ollie Atkins (Sydney University)
6.    Jed Holloway (Southern Districts)
7.    Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University)
8.    Dave Dennis (Sydney University, captain)
9.    Brendan McKibbin (Eastern Suburbs)
10.    Bernard Foley (Sydney University, vc)
11.    Peter Betham (Sydney University)
12.    Tom Carter (Sydney University)
13.    Rob Horne (Southern Districts)
14.    Cam Crawford (Northern Suburbs)
15.    Drew Mitchell (Randwick)

16.    Luke Holmes (Warringah)
17.    Richard Aho (Randwick)*
18.    Sam Talakai (Sydney University)**
19.    Lopeti Timani (Southern Districts)
20. AJ Gilbert (Northern Suburbs)*
21. Matt Lucas (Manly)
22. Ben Volavola (Southern Districts)
23. Tom Kingston (Sydney University)

* Indicates players from outside the 35-man squad
** Indicates uncapped players

Standby players:
24. Liam Winton (Sydney University)*
25. Terrence Hepetema (Randwick)*

British & Irish Lions

1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens / England)
2. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers / England)
3. Adam Jones (Ospreys / Wales)
4. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys / Wales)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster / Ireland)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers / England)
7. Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues / Wales, captain)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster / Ireland)
9. Mike Phillips (Bayonne / Wales)
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster / Ireland)
11. Simon Zebo (Munster / Ireland)
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues / Wales)
13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets / Wales)
14. Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors / Scotland)
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues / Wales)

16. Richard Hibbard (Ospreys / Wales)
17. Alex Corbisiero (London Irish / England)
18. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers / England)
19. Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers / England)
20. Dan Lydiate (Dragons / Wales)
21. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers / England)
22. Owen Farrell (Saracens / England)
23. Rob Kearney (Leinster / Ireland)

  • Hannibal

    With all due respect for these guys (and I do mean that sincerely) the on paper match up says the Tahs lose this battle in the forwards. Theres just not enough experience and strength from 1 to 7 against the Lions pack. The backs can only do so much if a platform crumbles.

    But nonetheless if its another spectacle like the Reds Lions match it’ll be great to watch.

    • Benny A’s Tackle

      I agree. The Tahs are just missing too many front line forwards, even if they can avoid a direct slog in attack they will have to front up when the Lions have the ball.

      Still, I hoping the Tahs run em ragged, play with some enterprise and gives us as much entertainment as the Reds.

    • Jimmy

      Good point. It’s not easy losing your first 7 of 8 forwards but there would be few teams that would seem to be able to cope as well. Sure the pack is well below top quality but their backup is surprisingly good. I really hope they can put on a good performance and make the match exciting

  • mrmouse

    With 11 of the squad being uni boys this raises two interesting points for me. Firstly, that uni players have more strings to untie bow than crash and crush muscle footy and secondly that a full strength uni squad would give most teams a run for their money, perhaps even including the lions.

    • Ralph

      Drugs. You’re on em.

      • CB11

        Honestly laughed at my desk for 5 minutes

  • jay-c

    interested to see the centers match up
    if carter can hold roberts, will that lend weight to mccabe starting for the wallabies

    • PiratesRugby

      Yes but Carter can’t hold Roberts.

      You are right though, the most important selection for the Wallabies is inside centre. Every other position is pretty much settled. It will be McCabe or Leiliifano but the effect on the game plan will be massive.

      • timmyhoranisgod

        Spot on Pirate. I can’t remember when a selection of 12 would reveal so much. Lealeafano at 12 would be a proactive, positive move signally an intent to attack. McCabe at 12 would be reactive and signal an intent to contain.

        Deans is a boring, conservative Kiwi. He will pick McCabe.

        Kyle Godwin is better then both of them and I think will be the Aussie 12 once the Rugby Champs gets under way.

        Such a shame Tomane got injured – he would have been great on left wing.

        • bill

          McCabe provides great physical theatre….but if you were assessing purely on skills he wouldn’t make 4th grade let alone a test side.
          Surely not even a master coach like Robbie would pick him at 12.

      • bennalong

        Quite a seer. Glad someone knows what will happen
        But let’s wait and see

  • HardenUp

    Waratahs look to have a fair team now but I would have preferred to have Horne at inside and kingston at outside. Really anyone but Carter as he is just too slow. If waratahs try to got head to head in tight, they will lose, but if they spread it around it could be really interesting. GO THE WARATAHS!!!

  • PiratesRugby

    I’m not used to hearing “super high tempo” used to describe the Waratahs. Lazy forwards flopping onto rucks is more like it. I saw the Rebels beat the Waratahs a few weeks ago and I didn’t see much “tempo”.

    I am keen to see how Foley goes. Of course he’ll be hampered by poor ball from overwhelmed forwards but if the Tah’s pack can at least hold off the increasingly menacing Lions pack, I reckon Foley could make something happen. I like Mitchell at 15 too. If he gets busy, he could cause the Lions some real headaches.

    Chieka is obviously the right man for that club. Still a long way to go…

  • Vinnie Gorham

    well, tahs did beat the force….

    • Redsfan1

      Well the Tahs did lose to the Rebels. The Rebels… But hey they are the only “test” the Lions will face according to NSW media this tour.

      • Vinnie Gorham

        reds were better, hopefully brumbies will give them a run for there money!

  • Mart

    Can’t believe how different Robbie Deans and Michael Cheika are. Complete polar opposites when it comes to trying to get their point across. It’s so good to hear Cheika talk no bullshit. Robbie is complete spin, should be a politician.

    In the interview with Kurtley he said..’how impressed he was, and that he’d shown he can cope’ wtf. Clearly he can’t cope if he’s in and out of rehab

    Bring on Cheika no nonsense. So refreshing

    • USARugger

      He wasn’t skimping on his rehab, okay! Just relaxing..

    • bill

      Robbie’s support for Kurtley is one of the few good things he’s done in the last two years and I applaud him for it. But the nature of that particular beast Beale’s dealing with is that it isn’t a short term issue. Hopefully he sticks at it, and while he does he’s fine to play for mine.

      • Mart

        No doubt. Agree Beale is an awesome player and should be there. It’s just the bullshit around these things that shit me. This was just an example of the spin.

        “deposit in belief” “dynamic systems” when people talk this sort of shit and creative spins when describing things it usually means they have no real idea what they’re doing.



  • BODisback

    Geez, does you optimism know no bounds?? Another speed bump for the Lions.

    • What, like the Queensland B team?

      • BODisback

        Er, yes. You’ve obviously never been on a proper tour before. The goal is momentum. Lions were never going to lose that game. Well done to the Queensland B team for giving it a go but the Lions just did enough to get to the next game without a loss.

        Feels a bit like you’re grasping at straws, reading far too much into a game that was lost.

        • All I’m reading is that for all your hogwash about momentum and speed bumps, the Lions scored one try against Queensland B.

        • BODisback

          You seemed to have missed the point. Who scored the most tries is an interesting discussion for the spectators and blog ‘experts’ but nothing that will worry The Lions. They won and have moved on to the next game with their eye on the big prize.

          I guess time will tell…..

  • Max hardcore

    Why don’t the Lions just play Sydney University?

  • Peter

    Irish and British Lions will hammer that lot.

  • bill

    I’ve grown to appreciate Rod Kafer over the last couple of years but he’s wrong about Bernard Foley not being big enough for test rugby,
    if he’s good enough he’s big enough. And he showed that tonight.

British & Irish Lions

Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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