It’s time for another Australian derby. While the match may include some errors and may not be as high quality as the matches involving the NZ teams, the Australian derbies have generally been intense, entertaining and competitive fixtures, and are well worth the investment of two hours.
Last time they met
When these teams last met in Round 5 at AAMI Park, the Rebels played what was arguably their best half of the season to take a 25 points to 6 lead into half time.
The Waratahs were able to fight back in the second half and score two tries in the last five minutes after Colby Fainga’a received a yellow card to steal an unlikely victory.
The Waratahs have won three matches and lost seven, and arguably should have lost the three they won. They lost four of their last five matches and have earned only two losing bonus points.
The Rebels have had only one win a draw. They have lost eight and have a points differential of -243. Like the Waratahs they have only two losing bonus points this season.
Head Coach Daryl Gibson has made four changes to his starting line-up. Lock Will Skelton, No. 8 Michael Wells and halfback Nick Phipps all come off the bench into the starting side, while Taqele Naiyaravoro returns from injury replacing Reece Robinson on the right wing. On the bench hooker Damien Fitzpatrick has replaced Hugh Roach.
Sean McMahon – they look like a completely different team with him
The Rebels have made a number of changes, three of which have been forced by injury (the story of the Rebels season). Dom Day, Tom English and Sefanaia Naivalu are all out with injuries. Lopeti Timani returns from a four game suspension, Sean McMahon makes his first start of the season,
Culum Retallick replaces Day in the starting line-up. Jackson Garden-Bachop will wear the number 10 with Ben Volavola moving to fullback, Reece Hodge has been named at inside centre,
Mitch Inman at outside centre and Jack Maddocks on the wing. Tyrel Lomax and Laurie Weeks have switched between the starting team and the bench.
Colby Fainga’a, local product Sione Tuipulotu and Jonah Placid return to the bench. Northern Suburbs pair Will Miller and Hugh Sinclair, who have impressed in their time in Super Rugby, drop out of the team.
Players to watch
In Round 5 against the Rebels, Foley’s poise, composure and game sense almost single handedly took the Waratahs to victory. Watch for Foley’s vision and kicking game.
Hooper has been one of the stars of Australian rugby for a number of years. Hooper has won four consecutive Matthew Burke Cups as the Waratahs’ Players’ Player and has won two John Eales Medals.
He is the ultimate competitor and in 2017 is in the top 10 in Super Rugby for both Carries and Tackles. Hooper has also scored 3 tries this season.
Mafi has been one of the shining lights for the Rebels this season. He has gained 565m so far this campaign, more than any other forward in the competition.
Mafi is willing to put his body on the line in both attack and defence and doesn’t mind getting up into opposition players’ face, something Quade Cooper can attest to.
McMahon showed in just 40 minutes on Saturday night against the Reds why he has won the last two Melbourne Rebels Player of the Year awards.
He made an immediate impact off the bench with his determined runs gaining significant ground and putting numerous dents in the Reds’ defensive line.
With McMahon’s appearance the Rebels looked like a completely different team.
Will Skelton – it will be interesting to see what impact he has
What to look out for
Foley to control his team’s movement around the ground and look for him to try and get Israel Folau more involved. While Folau is the Waratahs leading try scorer this season with 5 tries, he has not been in the best of form.
Will Skelton has been elevated to the starting line this week and it will be interesting to see what impact he has on the game. At 203cm Skelton has the size and potential to take a game by the scruff of the neck, although in the past he has not necessarily lived up to this potential.
Dean Mumm has to be watched at lineout time
The Waratahs will have the advantage at the set piece with a 90% lineout success and 89% scrum success compared to the Rebels at 82% and 83% respectively. Watch for Dean Mumm at lineout time, he has won 37 lineouts this season.
The Rebels will be heavily reliant on the strong running of both Mafi and McMahon. Under the coaching of Tony McGahan the Rebels have kicked the ball a lot, with McGahan’s philosophy seemingly focussed on field position, although it is quite difficult to score if you do not have the ball.
In contrast to this philosophy, in the second half last week the Rebels ran the ball more, which resulted in getting back line stars such as Reece Hodge and Marika Koroibete more involved and resulted in a better half of rugby.
As with the majority of Australian derbies, I expect a close encounter. As the match is at Allianz, the Waratahs having more experience and composure in the halves (particularly Foley), a more stable line-up and the Rebels continuing to suffer from injuries and the prolonged hangman’s noose looming over their head, I predict …
Waratahs by 10
Amanaki Mafi – dominant runner and tackler
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. Cam Clark
12. David Horwitz
13. Rob Horne
14. Taqele Naiyaravoro
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
1. Toby Smith
2. James Hanson
3. Tyrel Lomax
4. Culum Retallick
5. Steve Cummins
6. Lopeti Timani
7. Sean McMahon
8. Amanaki Mafi
9. Ben Meehan
10. Jackson Garden-Bachop
11. Marika Koroibete
12. Reece Hodge (c)
13. Mitch Inman
14. Jack Maddocks
15. Ben Volovola
16. Siliva Siliva
17. Fereti Sa’aga
18. Laurie Weeks
19. Esei Ha’angana
20. Colby Fainga’a
21. Harrison Goddard
22. Sione Tuipulotu
23. Jonah Placid
Date: Sunday, 21 May 2017
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 4:05 pm AEST
Referee: Angus Gardner (Aus)
Amy Perrett (Aus), Graham Cooper (Aus)
TMO: George Ayoub (Aus)
* Data used courtesy of Opta Sports
* Photos courtesy of Getty Images