Can the Lions stop this man?

Fresh from a Heritage Round win over the now struggling Reds at the SCG, the Tahs move straight into the ANZAC round right next door at Allianz after a six-day turnaround. Meanwhile, the Lions come off the bye to start their major travel leg of the season. It’s the top team from each of their respective conferences, but at this time of year, sometimes such a standing can only flatter to deceive.


It’s a fascinating match-up. The 2016 and 2017 finalists, and the form team of Africa in recent times, against the Waratahs, coming off a dreadful 2017 but quietly finding some shape and purpose as 2018 unfolds. Most non-believers had the ponies and George Lucas’s boys as the favourites for Australian conference dominance, with the Tahs not really entering consideration as finals participants. It could still go that way, but I don’t think many tipped the Tahs to be conference leaders at this time of the year.

The formline is further clouded by the draw. Apart from an unsuccessful lightning raid across the southern Atlantic, the Lions haven’t left the confines of the republic. Their only other away match was a trip around the corner for the local derby against the Bulls, which they won. So they’ve played six of their eight home matches already. They’ve also played two Kiwi teams, at home, and lost both. The Crusaders loss is probably acceptable, but losing at home to the Blues? And it only gets harder from here, with a four-match swing through ANZACland to take on the Tahs, Reds, Canes and Highlanders. If ever there was a season-defining road trip – this is it.

Meanwhile, the Tahs have already logged their season’s frequent flyer quota, with the around the world tour done, Tokyo successfully dispatched and an away win in Canberra, a rare feat in itself. They have another five matches at home including this one, BUT, and it’s a HUGE but, they are yet to meet a Kiwi team. After the Lions, they face four Kiwi sides in a row, albeit easing into it with the Blues at home, as things stand Australia’s best chance of breaking the duck against Kiwi sides should no-one do it in the interim. So, like the Lions, the next few matches are season-defining.

Photo courtesy of Keith McInnes

Rob Simmons – a surprise packet for the Tahs. Photo courtesy of Keith McInnes


If two teams at critical inflexion points for each is not enough, then give yourself an uppercut. If seeing the top team from two of the three conferences doesn’t whet your appetite, then change your diet. This really could be a belter, with both teams developing a style of rugby that belies their nationalities and is arguably the closest to a New Zealand style that each of their respective conferences has to offer. Overlay that with a new coach for the Lions, and a changed coaching line-up at the Tahs, with the Simon Cron effect becoming more obvious with each match. Something for the casual fan, something for the purists and something for the pundits.


The Lions tend to mix up their selections, and this week is no different. Changes in the front row (Van Rooyen in, Smith to the bench), Mostert playing out of position in the backrow (Ferreira into lock, Brink not in the squad), and a bench that has only three players from the previous match’s bench, including a rookie 9. Meanwhile, the Tahs have merely tweaked, with Miller to the bench, which shifts Hanigan to 6 and Staniforth in at lock. The backs remain the same, but with a 6:2 bench, Cam Clark drops out of the match day 23.

So, where’s the excitement? Where shall we look? Let’s start at the front.
Fitz v Marx. Yin and yang. Marx – the dominant hooker in the competition – a try scorer (equal leader for the Lions), a pilferer (best in the competition), and a physical presence around the park. Fitz – under the radar, but does the little things well. Technically strong, good tackler, also good over the ball, plenty of rugby smarts and a key link man in attack.
Hooper v Kwagga. Two of the best in the competition. Hooper a less than conventional 7, but increasingly better over the ball, huge energy and speed, a tackling machine and a key runner. Kwagga – a man seeking redemption after his brain-fart in last year’s final. Huge experience on the Sevens World Series, his playing style is not dissimilar to Hooper’s. He too will be busy all day.

Hooper x 2

Hooper – twice the captain he used to be. Courtesy:

Gordon v Smit. On form, a huge mismatch, with Gordon the form 9 in the competition and Smit, not so much. A Gordon snipe or two from the scrum base could be the difference, especially if Smit is having a nod.
Nard v Elton. Sounds like a bad boy band, but the reality is these two, along with BB, are the leading 10s in the competition. How they steer their teams, and how well they kick, will be key.
Taqele. Smokin’ hot at the moment, and in the form of his life. His go forward is critical for the Tahs, so containing him will be at the top of the Lions’ whiteboard. Testing his defence may be an opportunity.

Photo courtesy of Keith McInnes

Expect more of this. Note the presence of workhorse Wells in the background. Photo courtesy of Keith McInnes


The Tahs are still creating their identity, but they’re looking a lot like the Hurricanes – lots of attacking opportunities, which can sometimes lead to turnovers, and a high number of missed tackles (although the trend is improving here), yet a good enough defence for only one loss so far. The scrum struggled early in the season but has improved significantly. That seems to be as a result of lots of hard work at training but also having Sekope back, and, surprisingly, Rob Simmons. Their return marked a distinct improvement in the Tahs’ scrum, but the Lions will put this to the test, although with Mostert, along with Retallick, the form locks of the competition, playing out of position in the back row, the Lions scrum may lose some potency. However, expect the driving maul to be a weapon and Marx to be looking for more pies off the back of it. The Lions will no doubt try to brutalise the Tahs up front, cause chaos at the breakdown and then let their slippery backs run, along with some nuances from Elton from time to time. However, the Lions also leak tries, having conceded more than the Tahs have scored, so the Tahs’ counter-attack, along with Taqele’s go forward, could wreak havoc.


The Tahs are at home, settled and with only a small change to their team. The Lions are away, coming off the bye, at the start of a long road trip, still no Warren Whiteley, and with team changes. It’s a critical point in the season for each team, yet despite the Lions being last year’s finalists, the Tahs should take this in a high-scoring match decided by a small margin. Which would make a wonderful double, as the Waratah women should win the Super W final being played as the curtain-raiser. Should be a good day to be in sky blue!


1 Tom Robertson 2 Damien Fitzpatrick 3 Sekope Kepu 4 Tom Staniforth 5 Rob Simmons 6 Ned Hanigan 7 Michael Hooper © 8 Michael Wells 9 Jake Gordon 10 Bernard Foley (VC) 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro 12 Kurtley Beale 13 Curtis Rona 14 Alex Newsome 15 Bryce Hegarty

BENCH: 16 Hugh Roach 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes 18 Paddy Ryan 19 Nick Palmer 20 Jed Holloway 21 Will Miller 22 Nick Phipps 23 Lalakai Foketi

HEAD COACH: Daryl Gibson


1 Jacques Van Rooyen 2 Malcolm Marx 3 Ruan Dreyer 4 Andries Ferreira 5 Marvin Orie 6 Albertus “Kwagga” Smith 7 Franco Mostert © 8 Hacjivah Dayimani 9 Dillon Smit 10 Elton Jantjies 11 Madosh Tambwe 12 Harold Vorster 13 Lionel Mapoe 14 Ruan Combrinck 15 Andries Coetzee

BENCH: 16 Robbie Coetzee 17 Dylan Smith 18 Jacobie Adriaanse 19 Lourens Erasmus 20 Marnus Schoeman 21 Nic Groom 22 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg 23 Sylvian Mahuza

HEAD COACH: Swys de Bruin


Date: Friday 20th April 2018
Venue: Allianz Stadium Sydney
Kick-off: 19:45 local (AEDT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Damon Murphy (AR1) Graham Cooper (AR2)
TMO: George Ayoub

  • hasto

    retribution for no thursday rugby news mention for tahs fans!

  • Hoss

    Terrific write-up Xav.

    I think this game will be won in the 9-10 channel. Pressure Jantjies early and he is a flake for the remainder of the game. maybe get one of our quick loosies to him and pressure his kicks, pass and general decision making – maybe even an accidental (on purpose) smash tackle a fraction late on him after his passed / kicked just to say ‘welcome and i am hunting you all night’ – good investment in game management.

    The Lions piggies are not to be dismissed, but i agree – a settled Tah’s team, the Lions first run back from a spell, a home game all points to Blue Glory.

    Tah’s by 13.

    • Xaviera

      That could well work. I almost did an aside on the RSA 10s, but decided to keep it brief, but my view of it is all their 10s are inconsistent, but EJ is the least inconsistent of them. That said, he’s vulnerable to quality pressure, such as you suggested, so some eyeballing from the back of the lineout could work a treat, especially if followed up with some action.

    • Adrian

      Betting odds see Tahs firming from 0.5 points start to Lions earlier in week to 2.5 now.

      I’m thinking that NSW will move each ruck/maul as far as possible from the previous one to tire the Lions big pack.

      With 4 playmakers, the Tahs will create breaks galore, but might leak a few too.

      Tahs fitter, so I’m tipping a narrow victory too, but it won’t be easy

      This might be just the match for Beale to run himself

      • Hoss

        Youve been on the ball all season mate and are the GAGR Nostradamus, so i am putting some Johnny on your tips. What address should i send receipts if unsuccessful ?

        • Adrian

          Too much pressure Hoss!

          This week the most difficult so far for tipping Oz teams.

          My worry re Reds, Rebs and Brums is that they are picking more and more conservative teams following losses, and leaving matchwinners such as Duncan P and Naivalu on the bench, and Timani at home!

          Let’s see Brumbies team, but I don’t think it’ll scare Jags.

          I could of course be wrong on all counts, and loose my almost 100% record re Australian teams

        • Hoss

          Its a great point you make isnt it. You’re in a hole so the immediate / reflex reaction is to batten down the hatches with a safety first approach. I always look at the ‘opportunity cost’ of not doing something and my own approach is, if i am gonna go down, i am gonna go down swinging and on my terms and not meekly surrender into the night. Roll the dice and attack and when your exhausted and under pressure – attack some more.

        • Adrian

          Exactly…sort of what Gibson did.
          For my money, that is how Reds and Rebs started the year,…but have discontinued.
          Sad…..sort of

        • onlinesideline

          its a long season though

        • Adrian

          Very true

      • Crescent

        I am hopeful that you are on the money – I think it will be a tight match either way. In my view, getting width is not only to tire out the big beef, but also to move the ball away from Marx as much as possible. He pilfers like a loosie, and adds an extra dimension to the Lions at the breakdown. Both teams like to move the ball as much as possible, so I suspect the conditioning will come to the fore and should give us a pretty exciting 80 minutes. Does anyone know when the Lions landed in Aus? Coming off the bye, I wonder if they gave themselves some extra time to get settled into the time zone….

      • Ed

        Your Tahs have surprised me this year following the debacle of 2017.

        This season has shown how important Beale is to Foley. When Bernard had sole playmaking responsibilities, he made more mistakes.

        So far the Tahs fitness has helped them in the last 20 minutes in matches. However, it won’t be a point of difference for them next month. Ben from accounts and Aaron airport Smith have said they are fittest they have been in their rugby careers. You would think the other NZ franchises haven’t stood still in this aspect either.

        • Adrian

          Yes, maybe Oz bubble will burst… week after next.

          Kiwi teams certainly looking good, and maybe better than in 17

    • Tah Tragic

      You were spot on last week. Let’s hope your tipping streak continues. I’ll be there and I hope I can catch some of the women’s game.

      • Hoss

        More sheer good luck and complete bias than any science, knowledge, foresight or skill. Actually reads alot like my CV.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Yeah mate but the 10/12 channel of the Tahs is a bit of a revolving door as well. It hasn’t been exploited lately but that has more to do with the opposition tactics than anything else. A lot of this game will be more about the management of the Lions players after that travel and if they get that right I think the Tahs will struggle. I think the Lions forwards are much better and while the backs are almost even, I think the Lions have a better 9/10 combination. Just to be contrary I’m picking the Lions by 8

      • Hoss

        Thems fightin’ words partner.

        I think the Tahs are playing smart rugby this year. Yep the skills aren’t quite there and i reckon we left / blew 4 tries against Brad’s army and your lot wont be so giving with second, third & fourth opportunities. But i reckon the Tahs will run the Lions ragged and take the sting out of that large Saffa beef.

        I originally had us out by 9, but i reckon its 13+, no bonus point, but 4 points from the Lions game is a bonus in and of itself.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          If you get it absolutely. The Lions have been quite poor in a couple of games this year. Interestingly it hasn’t been one or two players it’s been more of a team thing. It’s almost like the team switches off. I personally think it’s a leadership thing more than anything else when it happens.

      • Xaviera

        Elton and Nard have similar stats across the season. If anything, Nard is ahead, and certainly more consistent, but that means you rate Smit over Gordon? As I mentioned above, Gordon is the form halfback in the competition at the moment, and Smit is, well, nowhere really, only playing because Cronje isn’t. Be interested to know what you’re seeing.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          I just think his distribution to Jantes is crisper and faster. In my mind a 9 with a fast pass is critical. As long as it doesn’t spray like Phipps, it’s better than a slightly slower more accurate pass. Mate I’m on record for not liking Foley so I’ll leave it there. Happy to agree to disagree but no one will convince me he’s more than slightly better than average at Super level and a lot lower than that at test level.

          By the way love the write up

        • Xaviera

          Wow – I recognise your long standing disdain for Foley, and I agree he is less than perfect in some areas, but Gordon’s form has improved with every match, whereas Smit I don’t really know, but looking at his stats, he’s not ranking. Should know the answer in about 24.5 hours….

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Absolutely mate. Doesn’t really matter what I think it’ll all work out on the field. I’ve been wrong before and I’m sure I’ll be wrong again in the future

        • Parker

          Hopefully as early as tonight!

  • Custard Taht

    Tahs to continue on their winning way. This will be a close game for 60mins before the Tahs runaway with it.

    Tahs 43 – Lions 21

  • Gipetto

    The caption describing 82 test veteran Rob Simmons as a “surpise packet” confirms my view that many so-called experts contributing to this site are hopeless.

    • Xaviera

      Thanks for your vote of confidence.

      His stats last year were poor, he was in but mostly out of the Australian team, and he lost his contract at the Reds. That’s a trend that suggests someone on the way out. If not, at least out of form. The Tahs picked him up, but knew it was a gamble (I spoke with Daryl about it), and once he overcame some injury and a newborn, his form has improved.

      So, based on that evidence, talk me through the “hopeless” bit.

      • Gipetto

        I can’t find Simmo’s 2017 stats but my recollection is that most Reds losses were caused by rookie backs’ poor defence. At the time I believed any coaching change would be an improvement, then along came the Kiwi goon and after the last two weeks I am bereft of hope for 2018. I suppose you are genuinely surprised that Simmo is a great player but teams he plays for seldom lose because of the way he does his work. The Tahs “gambled” on Simmo because he has a Wallaby contract and they had a shocking 2017 season with their first choice pack. The Reds’ selections are not a reliable guide to talent – they are headed for the Aussie wooden spoon this year. As a Reds fan, I like to spring to Simmons defence whenever he is criticised or damned with faint praise.

        • Xaviera

          I don’t think he’s a great player at all. Good on his good days – yes, and he’s certainly made the most of his opportunities, but compare him to Adam Coleman, let alone Rettalick, Mostert, Whitelock et al and he pales, quickly. Which is why, amongst other things, as Coleman has risen, Simmons’ star has faded. I think he gets a worse press than he deserves, but great is reserved for the Eales types.

          Irrespective of whether or not he had a Wallaby contract in his back pocket, Daryl wasn’t interested in him, for many of the reasons discussed, and to be fair to Daryl, he looks at these things differently to those in the NSW/QLD tribal camps, so I’m prepared to accept his was an impartial view, rather than one driven by parochialism, especially given Daryl’s boss is also a Kiwi.

          So in the context of that, to find Simmons having physical impact (cracking shot on Douglas last week – lined him up and belted him), is a pleasant surprise. Plus, as I mentioned in my piece, I hold him and Sekope responsible for the improvement in the NSW scrum, which is no mean feat given where they were at the start of the season.

        • Gipetto

          Selector Daryl took some time to give Hegarty an opportunity to play in a position where he could display his talent. The absence of the prophet with a bad hammy seems to have improved the team’s results. Hegarty is the catalyst for the Tahs current success. Contributors are always comparing Simmons with Kiwi locks who generally play in the midst of a pack of ruthless experienced world class players. How did Coleman go when the Rebels were thrashed by the Tahs in March.

        • onlinesideline

          “kiwi goon” ? – someone’s sore Quade was dropped ?

  • Parker

    Thanks for a well written report.

  • Gus

    Nice write up.

    As a Tahs fan it’s obviously been great to see them win this season but I’ve also enjoyed watching them play. You also sense that they are travelling on a positive path here. They should have every chance to win tomorrow and if they play well they will definitely be in the hunt. Let’s hope that’s their focus and not the harder tests to come or the off field dramas around Izzy.

    There are some really difficult philosophical questions raised here around secular vsreligious beliefs/social mores, free speech, whether athletes should accept they are role models and whether they then have to take different personal positions re the above particularly given how social media amplifies. Personally I’m more of the secular social mores, he’s got a platform through sport not his preaching ability but that gets me to the he should watch what he says solution rather than the he’s going to hell (boom) for saying it camp. Literal religious beliefs are clearly challenging and in some respects unacceptable in the modern western world. We should recognise that this is what we are probably dealing with here. Some of the social media commentary has been a bit hysterical and in my view not helpful. Let’s hope it doesn’t get out of hand.

  • Nick

    Excellent write-up. Go the Tahs! Hopefully the men and women bring it home.

  • John_R

    Let’s go Tahs. Real benchmarking game here.

    Also, it’s good that Hooper is Captain and Vice Captain (cause he’s so good, it’s like there’s 2 of him out there right):


The happiest of all. I've touched all levels, great ball skills, been known to blow hard. Been around the block once or twice

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