NSW Waratahs




Finally, it’s time, and all the posturing is over. No more resting of key players, no more excuses for losing soft matches. Get it wrong and it’s simply no more. Get it right, and who knows? These two teams have played two finals matches in recent years, and each time, the winner went on to win the comp. Here we have the Tahs (notionally 3rd) against the Highlanders (notionally 6th), but with the teams level on points, so that trajectory is less likely than their previous encounters, but still possible.

This match's winner will be rooting for the Jags, at least for a few hours.

This match’s winner will be rooting for the Jags, at least for a few hours.


Only nine weeks ago these teams met at the same venue, and we were treated to a cameo from Sensei Miyagi, cunningly disguised as a Highlanders winger. For his sins, Tevita Nabura was forced to watch the remake of Karate Kid every day for six weeks and such has been the toll, he’s not even on the bench this match, despite being eligible.

The Tahs won that match and broke the then much discussed Kiwi “hoodoo”, having come teasingly close in previous weeks. Would they have won without the red card? Most likely. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean much now. Since then, each team has had three wins and two losses, and in the process showed glimpses of their potential, in between causing their coaches heartburn. The Tahs have kept a reasonably stable line-up, subject to a couple of high profile dramas, whereas the Highlanders have been rotating players in and out, which, on balance can’t be helpful for cohesion and continuity.

That said, since their last encounter, changes have been made. New to the squad compared to that match, the Tahs have Hanigan and Newsome in the run-on team, with Ryan and Wilkin on the bench. Movement within the squad sees Holloway start, swapping with Staniforth, likewise Phipps for Gordon, with Cam Clark back to the bench. Dropping out of the squad is Ryan McCauley, Michael Hooper, Shambeckler Vui and Lalakai Foketi.

A not dissimilar story at the Landers. New to the squad are starters Liam Squire, James Lentjes and Teihorangi Walden, with Matt Faddes new to the bench. Rotations see Liam Coltman and Tevita Li start, with both Dixons, Ash and Elliot, moved to the bench. Dropping out of the squad is Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Dillon Hunt, Tevita Nabura and Patelesio Tomkinson

Both teams are running a 5:3 bench, which is instructive.


Did I mention it was finals time? ‘Nuf said.


Concentration and desire. Always important, but especially so for these teams, who can both run hot and cold, often within the same match. The closeness of the teams means mental acuity will be the difference.
In the air. Since the last meeting, the aerial game has been under intense scrutiny, yet here we have two of the best exponents of it in Folau and Ben Smith. The Brumbies successfully shut down Izzy in general play last week and I’m sure the Highlanders have similar plans. For the Tahs, one of the only positives to come out of last week’s loss was the re-starts, with both Izzy and Hanigan excelling. With the latter now a factor, it gives the Tahs options and makes it harder for the receivers.
The Yap. The two-Test incumbents. Both with a history of toileting problems. Both high energy and fierce competitors. Earplugs for the referee and chloroform on standby for everyone else. This will be a battle royale. Phipps is coming back into form, and even had a snipe last week, Smith has been hot and cold, but none of that matters, as these two will be going at each other. Worth the ticket price alone.
Ruck defence. Both teams have some seriously stacked backlines, but what happens in and around the breakdown will be key. If the Tahs leak too much here, they’ll eventually be run over by the Highlanders. Conversely, if the Tahs can tighten it up, the Highlanders may start to lose their shape. Hooper’s absence is considerable, but Miller has stepped up, so his work, along with that of the unsung Michael Wells, will be critical.

Mighty Miller. Ably filling big shoes.

Mighty Miller. Ably filling big shoes.


The Tahs have broken all sorts of records with their attack this season (tries scored, points scored), yet that belies one of their weaknesses, which we have seen in key matches, such as against the Lions, the weakness being to succumb to the temptation to go too wide too soon. If the tempo isn’t right, all it achieves is exhaustion, and lateral movement, rather than forward movement. It happened against the Brumbies too, so the Tahs need to earn the right to go wide by first going forward. It’s a little cliched, but it’s a lot true, and here the burden falls on Holloway and Simmons. I like the move of Jed to lock, notwithstanding his relative lack of height. He brings an edge to the tight five, and a little bit of that caring, understanding, Nineties type that every coach secretly desires. The Highlanders have plenty of it in Liam Squire alone, so how these two perform will be talismanic for their teams.

It goes beyond that. While the Tahs are, at times, good at scoring points, all too easily they lose their defensive pattern and let in soft tries. Again, the Brumbies match was a classic example, aided by three fortuitous bounces of the ball, and abetted by poor desire, execution and shape. Continue this and the Mad Monday plans will be underway by half-time.

The teams are level on points and not surprisingly, similarly aligned with their stats. The Tahs have the edge in the lineout, the Landers the edge in the scrum. Both teams concede a lot of turnover ball and miss a lot of tackles, so expect this to be a real spectacle. The weather forecast is good and the match official team is strong, so we can expect a rugby showcase.


The visitors start favourites and that’s understandable given recent form. For the Tahs to win this, they need to play like they did in that first half hour against the Richie Mo’unga led Crusaders in Christchurch. The form 10 of the competition is Mo’unga, and the Crusaders’ only losses have come about when he was injured, which only highlights just how good this Tahs team can be when they put it all together. The Highlanders will be enlivened by the return of their All Blacks and a quest for redemption after their last visit to Allianz. Only if the Tahs can concentrate for the duration will they win this, otherwise it will be the kilted ones heading to the semi-finals.

Nick Phipps running away with it.

Fanga fangs it.


1 Tom Robertson 2 Damien Fitzpatrick 3 Sekope Kepu 4 Jed Holloway 5 Rob Simmons (VC) 6 Ned Hanigan 7 Will Miller 8 Michael Wells 9 Nick Phipps 10 Bernard Foley (C) 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro 12 Kurtley Beale 13 Curtis Rona 14 Alex Newsome 15 Israel Folau

BENCH: 16 Tolu Latu 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes 18 Paddy Ryan 19 Tom Staniforth 20 Brad Wilkin 21 Jake Gordon 22 Cam Clark 23 Bryce Hegarty

HEAD COACH: Daryl Gibson


1 Daniel Lienert-Brown 2 Liam Coltman 3 Tyrel Lomax 4 Jackson Hemopo 5 Tom Franklin 6 Liam Squire 7 James Lentjes 8 Luke Whitelock 9 Aaron Smith 10 Lima Sopoaga 11 Tevita Li 12 Teihorangi Walden 13 Rob Thompson 14 Waisake Naholo 15 Ben Smith (CC)

BENCH: 16 Ash Dixon (CC) 17 Aki Seiuli 18 Kalolo Tuiloma 19 Shannon Frizzell 20 Elliot Dixon 21 Kayne Hammington 22 Josh Ioane 23 Matt Faddes

HEAD COACH: Aaron Mauger


Date: Saturday 21st July 2018
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20:05 local (AEDT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (AR1) Will Houston (AR2)
TMO: George Ayoub

  • Braveheart81

    The Tahs produced one of their best performances of the season against the Highlanders last time (irrespective of the red card) and will need to do it again. The Highlanders have a red hot backline as well as some big impact in their backrow reserves.

    The Tahs need to get some ascendancy at set piece. Last time they destroyed the Highlanders lineout and will need to do it again. The scrum should hopefully be a strength for the Tahs.

    I think it’s going to be really close. The Tahs need to start well. They had a shocking first 20 minutes against the Brumbies last week and put themselves out of the game. They can’t afford to do that again.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      The Highlanders have struggled to turn the ball over in recent weeks. The Tahs have one of the worst ball retention rates in the comp though. I think it will be won and lost at the breakdown as neither side really has a dominant set piece, or a set piece orientated game.

      • Braveheart81

        The Waratahs really disrupted the Highlanders lineout last time they met and forced the Highlanders to throw to the front to win their own ball which limited their attacking options. Tahs have been pretty good at attacking off first phase from the lineout. I think how the Tahs do in the lineout off both their own ball and the Highlanders will be pretty important.

        If the Highlanders can win clean ball at the back, that combined with Smith’s wide flat pass can give the Highlanders some incredible attacking options from first phase ball which are really hard to stop. I think that is going to be key for the Tahs to shut down.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          The Tahs’ line out was diabolical last week. Hopefully they’ve turned it around as Simmons was in imperious line out form prior to June.

          I wonder if the Highlanders will kick less than usual. The Crusaders kicked a lot to the Waratahs at first and the Waratahs got up 29-0. After they stopped kicking they won 31-29.

        • Xaviera

          True on both fronts. Thankfully, the Highlanders don’t have twin 6′ 10″ jumpers, so that should help. The Tahs didn’t adjust against the Saders once the latter changed their strategy, so thinking on their feet will be critical for the Tahs, and perhaps not their forte. A real test, as it should be.

  • Custard Taht

    The Tahs are about to ride in on English heavy horses and crush the Highlanders like worms…..not even William Wallace could save them.

  • Adrian

    Last week each of these teams rested 5 internationals. The Highlanders 5 weren’t picked, whereas the Tahs guys actually played,…but rested anyway!

    It won’t be like that this week.

    “On song” the Tahs should win, even without Hooper.

    They’ll certainly miss his drive and leadership, and his role of standing at 10 in defence, as well as doing cover defence,…which is effectively two jobs. Miller will do a lot of this, but he isn’t Hooper. Brad Wilkin will have to come on early IMO, even for Holloway. I don’t want Staniforth on too soon though.

    It’ll be helter-skelter from the opening whistle from the Tahs, with the 5 “rested” players (Folau, Rona, Beale, Foley, Simmons) having an obligation on them to pull their fingers out.

    Plenty of aerial, plenty of backline moves from set-piece play.

    The bookies say Highlanders by 2.5, but I say Tahs by enough

    • Xaviera

      They were off last week, weren’t they? No second chances now…..

  • Jason

    How on earth does SANZAR think it’s possible okay to have all 3 of the officiating team for a semi-final be completely local! Like setting aside the the issue that they may actually be bias, but the perception of bias is rampant.

    • thehunters

      Agree. I’m a tahs fan, but that’s irrelevant. An all-aussie set of officials is just asking for trouble.

      • cantab

        yeah it’s crazy, they have done it accross the board. Chiefs even have an ex team mate as a ref this week.

        • Xaviera

          Reading the tea-leaves, it’s a mixture of convenience and ranking. The referees have been appointed according to ranking, with Glen Jackson and Angus Gardner the top two, so they’ve been given the big games. To make it seem more neutral, they probably could have swapped them, but they’re sticking with their rankings.

          The supporting officials (AR1, AR2, TMO) are almost always local anyway, so no change there, and this week they’re all Super Rugby panel referees, so we’ll have a better standard across the board. The team for this match is excellent, so we’re in good hands. That’s not to say it won’t get a bit hairy…..

      • Adrian

        I reckon the refs will over compensate for how it might “look”
        Don’t like it at all.

        PS I am a NSW supporter

  • Hoss

    ‘Both with a history of toileting problems’ – Gold Xav.

    Blind faith and the Kilt lovers being a wee rusty by resting 28 players last week.

    The Forrest Gump XV – by 9-12.

    Go you good things.

    • onlinesideline

      as in “life is like a box of chocklates, you never know what you gonna get” with the Tahs ?

      • Xaviera

        Hopefully, it’s “Run Tahs, Run!”.

      • Hoss

        Nailed it shagger.

  • thehunters

    I haven’t read every article so I may have missed it, but I’ve been surprised that the Tahs pushing passes has not received more attention. They made mistakes in defence but one version of reality is that, if they had not pushed passes, the first of which created the Brumbies first try, they probably would have scored another couple of tries and conceded fewer turnovers. Then you have a very different game. Don’t get me wrong, the Brumbies brought more and therefore deserved the win. But, with better coaching and player discipline, which includes not trying to score a miraculous try with every touch (outside backs!), this should see a better game from our boys. (And bring Latu into the game not too late for his energy and pilfering.)

    • Xaviera

      The pass leading to the first Brumbies try wasn’t a pushed pass, it was just a shit pass, and there is a difference. Later in the match we saw two plays between Izzy and Mr T, both 50:50 passes near the line. One was spilled, the other led to a try (probably suggests they truly were 50:50 passes!). That said, your point is a valid one – patience is key, and so too will be ball retention.

  • Missing Link

    I say this thought gritted teeth but GO THE TAHS

    • Xaviera

      It didn’t hurt that much did it? Bravo to you.

  • thehunters

    forgot to say… I know Ned H has his knockers, but his game against the Brumbies last week was a revelation. Great motor, new skills displayed, was one of the Waratahs best. Great to see pressure put on other teams on re-starts. We seemed to have only 2 options before – Izzy or deep.

    • Xaviera

      He has a disproportionate number of knockers, and given his stats, unreasonably so. Curiously, the stats of Wells/Miller/Hanigan have been good of late, which suggests some others need to do some soul searching, and more work! I was particularly pleased with Ned’s aerial work – as I mentioned above, it really provides options for the Tahs and in a close match, such a successful restart could make all the difference.

      • onlinesideline

        Maybe if BT messaged him about getting a Christian Bros haircut his knockers woud dissappear.

        • Adrian

          Ha ha
          BT might have something in common with i$$y (or is it I++y?), but not with most of the Tahs me thinks….thank Christ (with a small c)

  • John Tynan

    Good write up, X. Liked the line “..Both with a history of toileting problems..”
    Highlanders are my kiwi team, but the other mob are aussie so go the w.w.w.w…., w.w.w.w.w.w.w……blue team!

  • formerflanker

    Hooper’s critics are loud when he plays. His absence has brought out a lot of supporters to highlight his ability and leadership that the team needs.
    Hope he’s playing next week!

    • Xaviera

      I don’t think he’ll play for the Tahs again this season, even if they make the final. He may just make the Bledisloe, but he’ll be a bit rusty, so a dilemma for Cheika too.

    • Adrian


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