Semi-final Preview: Lions v Waratahs - Green and Gold Rugby
NSW Waratahs

Semi-final Preview: Lions v Waratahs

Semi-final Preview: Lions v Waratahs

On Saturday night the Waratahs play another game no one but the rusted on die-hard gives them a chance of winning.  They’ve crossed eight time zones, so their body thinks its evening and time to go to sleep when its really lunchtime. They are taking their pop-gun pack to the high-veldt to face a pack loaded with behemoths and their game plan is just to run faster. They know that had they beaten the Brumbies two weeks ago they would have been at home, a fact that’s likely to worm its way into their mind at some unguarded moment. They face a team who has lost the last two finals and wants to win so badly this year. Just when will the Waratahs reach that “bridge too far”?

Beale chases the chip.

Beale chases the chip.

Why should I bother?

Because this is a semi-final, between two teams who are better attackers than defenders. Its a game where some of the greats of this year will be matching up against wannabe-greats. It will be open, fast and willing, with the set piece work of both teams under serious scrutiny. The referee is Glen Jackson, who likes an open, fast game. This will definitely not be NH trench warfare with a 6-3 scoreline.

Andries Coetzee looks for space.

Andries Coetzee looks for space.

Key match ups

Malcolm Marx v Tolu Latu

Picked to stiffen the scrum and the Waratahs work at the breakdown, Tolu Latu will be matched against the best hooker in the world. The outcome of this may well decide the game. It will be a telling contest with the Rugby Championship to come.

Franco Mostert v Rob Simmons

The Lions lineout has been impervious to attack this year while the Waratahs lineout has been great one week and terrible the next. Can Simmons stabilise the Waratahs throws at least and counter the Lions rolling maul?

Kwagga Smith v Will Miller

Kwagger Smith was my MotM in the 29-0 thrashing earlier – he was in everything and at his disruptive best. If Miller can break even with him it will go a long way to neutralising one of the Lions key weapons.

Harold Vorster v Kurtley Beale

Vorster is likely to be on a one man search and destroy mission because the Lions know that if they can disrupt Beale’s control then the Waratahs attack is almost toothless.

Coetzee and Combrinck v Folau and Naiyaravoro

Combrinck, big and fast, will be lining up against Naiyaravoro. Its a good match-up. With Coetzee and Folau inside each of them this will be worth the admission price all on its own.

The game plans:

The Lions:

The Lions have scored 17 tries this year from rolling mauls, twice as many as the next nearest team. As the Waratahs are not noted maul defenders, I reckon that might go to 19 by the end of Saturday night.

The teams that have troubled/beaten the Waratahs this year have been the teams that have sought to win the gain-line battle by being hard and direct. The Crusaders stopped kicking to Izzy when they were 29 points down and just trucked it up relentlessly till they won by two points. Sure they had heaps of help from Ben O’Keefe and the TMO, but their method was absolutely effective. The Brumbies used a similar strategy to win and deny the Waratahs a home semi-final. Last time the two teams played in Sydney, the Lions were very direct with their big men and only went to the outside once the Waratahs were back on their heels with their backline drawn into the middle of the park. That game finished 29-0 Lions and I reckon they’ll just dig out that gameplan and replay it word for word.

The Waratahs:

They only have one game plan, to run their opposition off their legs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but they supposedly didn’t have any money left in the tin half way through last year when the Force’s power-players were available to purchase, so they can only play with the players they had already secured and that means running other teams off their feet. It makes training easy; their game playbook is probably the thinnest in the comp, Sunwolves aside.

Taqele Naiyaravoro touches the ball down in his own in goal.

Taqele Naiyaravoro touches the ball down in his own in goal.


For the last two years, the Lions have looked near-unbeatable at home but this year they have been quite flaky. The return of Warren Whiteley will help their stability, but the Lions will have to bring their best game to the day or they will be done and dusted for the year.

All this year the Waratahs have looked to be a team without enough firepower. But they have still managed to get to the semifinals when eleven other teams haven’t, and some of those teams have clearly had more; they just didn’t know how to use it. So, they are not without hope, and as a rusted-on Waratah supporter I have to cling to that. But I think with the travel and the altitude this will be a bridge too far and I’m predicting:

A win to the Lions by 15.

Match Details

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

16. Damian Fitzpatrick
17. Harry Johnson-Holmes
18. Paddy Ryan
19. Tom Staniforth
20. Brad Wilkin
21. Jake Gordon
22. Cameron Clark
23. Bryce Hegarty

1. Jacques van Rooyen
2. Malcolm Marx
3. Ruan Dreyer
4. Franco Mostert
5. Marvin Orie
6. Kwagger Smith
7. Lourens Erasmus
8. Warren Whiteley
9. Ross Cronje
10. Elton Jantjies
11. Aphiwe Dyantye
12. Harold Vorster
13. Lionel Mapoe
14. Ruan Combrinck
15. Andries Coetzee

16. Corne Fourie
17. Dylan Smith
18. Johannes Jonker
19. Hacjivah Dayimani
20. Mauns Schoeman
21. Dillon Smit
22. Courtnal Skosan
23. Howard Mnisi

Match Details

Date: Saturday, 28th July 2018

Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg

Kick-off: 2305 AEST

Referee: Glen Jackson

Assistant referees:  Marius van der Westhuizen,  Rasta Rasivenghe

TMO: Marius Jonkers

  • onlinesideline

    Tahs to get away with a flying start scorig 2-3 tries in first 20 mins
    Lions to grind their way back
    Last 15 mins Tahs to hold in a nail biter
    Yellow cards to play a big role
    Tahs to go in, in last 5 mins to win by 6

    Canes to roll Saders
    Epic Tahs v Canes final

    • IIPA

      I’m picking up what you’re putting down onlinesideline !

      Bit surprised that Simmons and Wells have both passed HIA ( no one tell Fitzy or he’ll devote an entire article on Wells being knocked out one week and playing the next ). I foresee big roles needed by Staniforth and Irwin off the bench.

      This could be a real fun game to watch as both teams seem like they want to run the other off their feet.

      Family friendly 11pm kickoff too ( by normal Sth African match standards )

    • Brumby Runner

      Any cards at all could have a large bearing on the outcome, but I think the game will be won and lost in the halves. Cronje/Jantjes vs Phipps/Foley will be the match-up of the game.

      • Bay35Pablo

        I don’t think Jackson will wave the cheese or the lobster unless he has to. Unlike some who are far too eager to wave the “look at me” signs.
        Unfortunately the “guidelines” from the twits at WR have gotten so specific that in some cases the refs have no choice not to, or they end up getting a grilling from the WR Stasi as to why they didn’t follow protocols even if everyone else on the planet thought they excercised their discretion and got it right.
        If WR had been around in 1823 they’d have banned WWE for life, and we’d still be playing day long 200 a side rumbles in grounds marked by brick school walls.

    • Tah Tragic

      I don’t think you can claim to be the first to predict this. Bold prediction nonetheless. I hope you’re right.

      • onlinesideline

        Dunno – I was pretty specific. The only thing I didnt predict was the exact crowd numbers.

        Attendance figues: – 47 534

        • Baylion

          30,000 tickets sold by midday SA time yesterday. Lions hoping for 40+k

    • LED

      I have…for when it proves totally the opposite.

      • onlinesideline

        will you publish it though when Im right ?

        • LED

          You kidding? You totally set yourself up :)

        • onlinesideline

          Faith mate Faith – life is not a true life without it.

    • cantab

      Wow, you did really well for the first 4-5 lines!

      • onlinesideline

        too many revolving door moments. 3 guys falling off Knagge Smith twice – can never win finals that way mate.

  • Pedro

    Thanks for the write up Hawko.

    The tahs have surprised all year, especially in the forwards which I thought were inferior to most teams on paper. That makes me think that they’re a very well coached/conditioned team which gives them a shot in a high pressure match. That coupled with recently playing in a big comeback win will keep them confident even if they fall behind early.

    Lions are the favorites, but the tahs could have another surprise for us yet.

    • Ads

      Yep Cron has done very well

      • Bay35Pablo

        Question is just whether he takes over from Gibbo in 2019 or 2020.

        Given the chokes we’ve had this year, and the flashes of brilliance, I think he’ll get another year, which is good because it’s another year for Cron to learn the ropes.
        And unlike 2008 Hore won’t punt Gibbo pre finals, only for us to make it … like they did to Link that year.

        • Braveheart81

          Gibson will get at least one more year. That was the plan even if this season hadn’t turned out to be a success. They want Cron and Whittaker (who joins in 2019) to have one more year before one of them takes over (presumably Cron is the favourite there). There’s a chance due to the success of this season that Gibson will get another two years rather than one.

  • Missing Link

    Carn the Tahs. Do it for the Aussie conference!

  • Andy

    If they can pull it off it will be one of the greatest wins in their history. Maybe only second to the Saders final. Notwithstanding, the most surprising season to date. Agree with the comments about the Tahs coaching. They should be applauded for their work, especially in the forwards.

    This Lions team is very good and great to watch. Should be a cracker

    • LED

      Good point as it underscores just what a hill they have to climb to win this. Problem is as well – if they do theyve probably played their final. Very hard to do that 2 weeks in row let alone 3 given last weks comeback win falls in that camp as well.

  • Mart

    I don’t see Tahs getting quick ball. Jackson is very relaxed around breakdown. Lion’s will be in there causing havoc

    • Mica

      Relaxed is a nice way to put it. I’d describe it as loose. A less friendly individual could use the term clueless.

      • Mart

        I actually like his style….if you’ve got a big pack with Pocock

  • LED

    Worth commenting on the Lions win last weekend. While the score looked like they monstered the Jags, did anyone else think it was one of those “miracle” games for the Lions? I counted about 3 tries that in any other game wouldnt occur. Think the Marx intercept (we’re not going to see that again), the soccer juggle 2 grubber try and the one close in to the Jags line where about 3 defenders fell off the smallest guy on the park.

    Take 2 of those 3 miracles away and its a line ball game that came down to a last minute try or no try in the corner to the Jags.

    Honestly while the Lions monstered the Tahs earlier this season, Im not sure they showed the same stuff in the quarter, score notwithstanding

    • Adrian


      It’s not just the Tahs who pulled off a miracle last week

      It’s more uncertain than is commonly thought

    • onlinesideline

      good point(s)

  • Adrian

    In the last match v Lions, from memory the Tahs tried a bigger less mobile pack, used Naiyaravoro in centre field, and didn’t kick for Izzy.

    They’ll reverse all of that.

    This time the pack is smaller but mobile, and they’ll try to make each ruck as far away from the last one as possible…to tire the big Lions forwards.

    This should also result in more ball, and chances of midfield breaks via Beale, lateral kicks for Folau, and fast wide switches to Naiyaravoro.

    Mid second half Kepu might run, then rest

    I hope Kepu can come back for the last 10 via an “injury” to Ryan after he’s been on for 10 minutes

    • Missing Link

      man I love watching Kepu run :)

    • joy

      I hope those inverted commas mean what I want them to mean.

  • 2bluesfan

    Great preview Hawko but I choose to retain faith in the Tahs [despite what my previous previews might suggest :) ]. Tahs to somehow conjure up an after the bell try to win a high scoring but close match.

  • Bay35Pablo

    The Tahs by their own admission played the wrong game plan when we got touched up 29-0 in regular season. We played to their strengths and against ours by trying to match it up front in the big men, and one out. Duh. I don’t think we’ll do that again.
    I think the 5-3 bench shows that. We played a 6-2 bench in regular season. Fresh legs in 2nd half to run wide.
    The real issue is focus and making a start. The fundamental flaw all season has been not switching on from the start, getting in a hole, and having to dig ourselves out. Clan quarter final for example. If we start slow and the Lions get a run on, it is not going to be easy to fight back (subject to Jackson spinning the card chocolate wheel, which cuts both ways). Having said that, if any team can suddenly find 2 quick tries it’s the Tahs. I am just not sure the Lions are the team to waver and let it happen.
    In a way the 29-0 game is irrelevant. Reset. Tahs will approach it on basis know what did wrong and play differently. If Lions assume game will go same way, then they could slip up. But they are not dumb.
    I think Jackson will make a big difference, in that free flowing rugby probably suits the Tahs more when they get a roll on. Hopefully Jackson won’t be willing to let the Lions get away with infringing at the ruck because, to engage in national stereotyping, the Saffers love to push the rules at the breakdown. I am sure there is a generation of young Saffer back rowers with Richie’s poster on their walls, as their idol of what to get away with. The buggers drive in from every angle including the wrong side if they can, and pop up in the most offside places.
    Anyway, go the Tahs!!!! Hope springs eternal, 23 years running (1 from 22 so far).

    • Archie

      Lol. If you read Rugby365, they’ve been talking about the Waratahs infringing and getting away with it. One commenter said… ‘Their mate Angus won’t be there to save them this time’ … eye of the beholder I guess

  • Baylion
    • Fatflanker

      Appreciate the Lions have a great pack but what has happened to the Argie scrummage this year?…never seen it so poor.

    • Will

      haha I think i see your comments on rugby365 welcome to the forum mate. Good luck on Sat night, hopefully it’s a good game for both sets of fans

      • Baylion

        Thanks Will

        I don’t normally “invade” other fans forums, only when it’s relevant to my team like for this match

        Good luck to the Tahs too. You a Tahs fan?

        • Will

          Sure am. As you can read here, you’ll see we are not confident against the Lions, but are hopeful. It’s certainly possible the Tahs could pull off another upset, but given the travel, altitude, away game, Hooper out, Tah powderpuff pack it might be a step to far. I’ll get behind them nonetheless like I did last weekend at Allianz ;-)

        • Baylion

          That’s what we fans do, isn’t it?

          It worries me that the Lions are such overwhelming favourites and just hope this hasn’t worked through to the players. The Lions have been poor this year whenever there was an “easy” game

        • John Tynan

          If you’re a rugby fan, you’re welcome any time mate.

    • Andy

      Lol. The Jags tight head literally get flipped sideways off his feet. Eaten alive, devoured

  • juswal

    Thanks for the comprehensive preview, Hawko.

    I’m pretty sure that one of the teams will fail to ignite and/or will implode around half-time – but I can’t tip which one.

  • Fatflanker

    Can’t see this away game being anything other than too much for the Tahs sadly…ta very much, you bloody selfish and un-Australian Brumbies. Glen Jackson is going to need fresh batteries for his ear-piece at half time – that is for sure.

  • Braveheart81

    This is a huge challenge for the Tahs. They are deservedly at long odds with the bookies because the Lions are a good team, particularly at home and Ellis Park is an incredibly hard place for away teams to win.

    The Tahs need to do everything differently to when they met the Lions earlier this year in Sydney. They have to play to the edges and keep the ball away from Marx and Smith as much as they can.

    Whilst the Lions like playing a high tempo game to tire out their opposition at altitude, I think the Tahs have to embrace that and take it a step further. They need to play fast and hope they have the fitness to play that sort of game for 80 minutes.

    I think there will be plenty of points in this game and the Tahs will need to score 40 to win it. I’m not at all confident but I’m certainly hopeful.

  • Phil Kcraig

    Are the Tahs favourites to win – nope – but can they win – for sure – and to be frank you don’t win games unless you have the mental attitude to believe you can win. Tahs by 6.

    • Adrian

      Hope so.
      Logic says you are wrong Phil, but, what the heck, I’m with you. NSW by 6

  • Baylion

    Thanks Tahs, Thanks for the game

    See you guys next season

    • Mica

      Good luck for the final!
      Hope you bring your A game and it’s an absolute cracker!

NSW Waratahs

Grew up watching Catchpole and Hawthorne, then later the Ella brothers, on Channel Two on Saturday afternoon. Expert commentary by Cyril Towers. No better rugby education ever to be had.

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