Preview - Highlanders v Waratahs - Green and Gold Rugby
NSW Waratahs

Preview – Highlanders v Waratahs

Preview – Highlanders v Waratahs

The Waratahs travel to Dunedin on somewhat of a high after a solid but incomplete thumping of the Rebels in Melbourne last weekend.

They haven’t won in Dunedin since 2008 and will be looking to build on last week’s performance to become the first Australian side to beat the Kiwis this season, and most importantly to keep their finals hopes alive.

Bernard Foley

Waratahs – their win last week was not complete

The Form

The Clan are in impressive form, having won their last eight matches in a row, a club record. Importantly, their last three outings yielded three wins on the road—a miracle finish in Bloemfontein, a scrappy mud match in Pretoria, and a 55-6 poleaxing of the Force in Perth.

The Tahs have been in erratic form winning only four of their eleven games and becoming renowned for producing incomplete, 40-minute performances. Last week they managed to increase that to a (final) 60 minute performance against the Rebels, playing some of their best rugby for the season in the dominant win.

Ben Smith – back for the Highlanders

Team News


The home team are strengthened by the returns of Ben Smith, in at fullback for Matt Faddes, and of Aaron Smith moving from the bench to the starting lineup. Waisake Naholo returns from suspension to replace Patrick Osborne on the wing, and Luke Whitelock replaces Gareth Evans in a reshuffled backrow.

Marty Banks is rewarded for a strong season so far, remaining as the starting first-five ahead of Lima Sopoaga who will enter the arena from the pine for the second week since returning from injury.

The Waratahs have taken some faith from last week’s performance and named an unchanged side.

Marty Banks – has kept his spot

Why should I bother?

This match promises to be an exciting encounter as it is a must-win game for both teams.

The Highlanders sit fourth on the NZ Conference ladder, however they are only two points out of second spot; so a strong run into the finals could see them avoid the top teams (Crusaders and Lions) in the first round of the playoffs.

From the Waratahs’ point of view, it’s do or die in every game now to stay in contention for the top spot on the Australian Conference, and thus be the only Australian team in the playoffs.

A win here is essential as they are already relying on the Brumbies dropping a game or two later on to qualify.

Aaron Smith – will be a handful for the Waratahs

Key match-ups

The halves – Phipps/Foley v Smith/Banks
With the match likely to be played at test match speed, the composure and experience of the halves combinations will be crucial in setting the platform for the out-wide attack.

The energy of Phipps and the steadiness of Foley up against the tactics and accuracy of Smith and Banks should ensure an intriguing tactical battle in close.

The fullbacks – Folau v Smith
Arguably the number one and number two fullbacks in the world will be facing off against one another.

They have different skill sets however, with Folau being a player who can be devastating when he is given space, whereas Smith is a player who can create that for himself.

If the game is played at a fast tempo as expected both of these players could open it right up.

The 7s – Hooper v Hunt

Hooper’s stats from last week’s match were nothing short of astounding, with his run metres and linebreaks being the envy of any outside back, and that complemented his four turnovers.

Hunt is a relative new kid on the block, but has been very good of late, playing much more the traditional fetching role of the openside.

Michael Hooper – had a commanding game last week


This year’s statistics for the two teams are interesting. The Clan have a dominant point scoring record, but only just, and have clearly played a kicking game, averaging 29 kicks from hand per game, compared to 20 for the Tahs.

The Tahs have made more run metres, had more carries, and thrown more passes than the Highlanders.

My inference here is that the Waratahs will throw everything at the Highlanders in attack, with a nothing-to-lose mindset.

In contrast, the Highlanders will play a tactical kicking game and use their pace out wide. The risk for the Waratahs here – if they don’t counter it adequately – is that Naiyaravoro could be left exposed.

I think we will see a high-scoring encounter, and as much as I hope that the Waratahs can win…

Highlanders by 15


1. Aki Seiuli
2. Liam Coltman
3. Siate Tokolahi
4. Alex Ainley
5. Tom Franklin
6. Eliiot Dixon
7. Dillon Hunt
8. Luke Whitelock

9. Aaron Smith
10. Marty Banks
11. Tevita Li
12. Richard Buckman
13. Malakai Fekitoa
14. Waisake Naholo
15. Ben Smith (cc)

16. Ash Dixon (cc)
17. Daniel Lienert-Brown
18. Siua Halanukonuka
19. Joe Wheeler
20. Gareth Evans
21. Kayne Hammington
22. Lima Sopoaga
23. Rob Thompson


1. Tom Robertson
2. Tolu Latu
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Dean Mumm
5. Will Skelton
6. Ned Hanigan
7. Michael Hooper (c)
8. Michael Wells

9. Nick Phipps
10. Bernard Foley
11. Taqele Naiyaravoro
12. David Horwitz
13. Rob Horne
14. Cam Clark
15. Israel Folau

16. Damien Fitzpatrick
17. Paddy Ryan
18. Angus Ta’avao
19. David McDuling
20. Jed Holloway
21. Jake Gordon
22. Bryce Hegarty
23. Irae Simone

Match Details

Date: Saturday, 21 May 2017

Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Kick-off: 7:35 pm local; 5:35 pm AEST

Referee: Ben O’Keefe (NZ)

Assistant referees:
James Doleman (NZ), Cam Stone (NZ)

TMO: Shane McDermott (NZ)

Data used courtesy of Opta Sports

  • Rob Malcolm

    We need to find the balance of enthusiasm and discipline in the first 20 minutes to be any chance. And then a few lucky bounces and refs calls would be handy. Tahs by 1

    • Huw Tindall

      Agree Rob. We were sunk against the Blues in the first 20 with the 0% possession and numerous penalties. Then we outplayed them the rest of the game! Be fast up in defence to disrupt their halves but be sensible at the breakdown to start with. No easy territory. Take the 3s on offer. Run back the kick return with plenty of support runners hanging off the shoulders of Naiyaravoro and Folau.

  • Huw Tindall

    Good write up Jeremy!

    Think you are spot on with the kicking game risk for the Tahs but as ever it will be decided in the pack first and foremost. If the Tahs get parity or better we are a chance. If we don’t we are screwed. Especially on top of the Highlanders superior tactical kicking game; which is the same game they’ve been playing for 3 seasons now! If the Tahs don’t fall into a kicking war and instead get their big runners taking the kick return to the line then we could be OK. In saying all this though I reckon the Highlanders could really do us over. Another 40-25 sort of result with Tahs scoring plenty but leaking like a sieve.

    • Lachlan Habershon

      pretty spot on score prediction here…

  • Adrian

    Good write up Jeremy, and good comments so far.

    I’m a NSW supporter, but I tipped the Highlanders. I hope I’m wrong.

    We need to play the only way we are good at, which is the power game with flat backline. Breaks down the channel, with plenty of lead up from Kepu, Skelton, Latu, Nayavaro, Hanigan, ..all driven by Phipps.

    Folau, Hooper to back up every break

    No kicking except goals, because we effectively can’t kick.

    On song, the Waratahs can be awesome, lets hope they are

  • Tommy Brady

    Good thoughts Jeremy, well written.
    I believe the biggest problem facing the Waratahs is in a game where plenty of points will be needed, they are too reliant on too few to get them. The threats from Hooper, Foley and Folau are well known – but it falls away badly after that. Phipps Is just a distributor who offers little attacking threat. Horwitz is limited as a midfield ball player, Horne even less so. Clark looks to be a finisher only and Nayaravoro a 1 trick pony down 1 channel only. Who possesses the creative nous, on field vision and the necessary execution skill to create havoc and bust open a game like this?

    Putting 50 points on a dreadful Rebels team is one thing. Not sure a Highlander’s backline containing 4 All Blacks will be as generous with space and defense.

    • Dally M

      If you are going to start Nayaravoro, you have to use him.

      I think he touched the ball twice in the first 40 last week. First time saved a try and the second was for a try. Other than that, he never saw the ball.

      Just give it to him and use him as an extra forward at times.

      • Tommy Brady

        Excellent points.
        Does Nayaravovo have the willingness to go hunting for the ball and creating impact in unstructured, broken field situations? Ditto Clark? Do the Waratahs have the deep conditioning levels needed if this becomes an up tempo affair in perfect playing conditions under the roof? Do the Waratahs have the confidence to back themselves in unconventional situations to play unconventional rugby? Playing structured, field position type footy against the Highlander’s in Dunedin may get you respect on the scoreboard – little else. Let’s see what the Waratahs have got. It’s all to play for.

  • Javier Ortega

    Haha Folau number 1 fullback in the world???? Hahaha ocka is high

  • Keith Butler

    Dean Mumm the gift that keeps on giving.

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