There can be only one. The Super Rugby tournament is more difficult for the Australian teams in 2017 than it was last year because they are playing against the sides of the stronger South African Conference. This means that it will even easier for three NZ teams to make the finals and more difficult for a second Aussie team to go through.
Moreover the standard of teams within the Australian Conference are closer to each other than ever, with the Brumbies and Waratahs weaker than last year and the others stronger. The Aussies Conference derbies will become even more important than they were before, and almost worth double points.
This Waratahs v Brumbies match could determine which of these two teams will be the Aussie finalist.
- Waratahs 19 – Force 13
- Crusaders 17 – Brumbies 13
- Lions 55 – Waratahs 36
- Brumbies 22 – Sharks 27
- Sharks 37 – Waratahs 14
- Brumbies 25 – Force 17
The Waratahs’ form on their South African tour was terrible. They looked uninterested and once they fell behind it looked like they gave up. They looked mentally weak; yet they looked mentally tough and ground out a hard-fought game in Round 1.
The Brumbies’ form has been better but how did they surrender victory to the Sharks after the siren with a draw on the scoreboard?
Both teams’ sole wins have been narrow ones at home against the Force.
Michael Hooper will captain the team once more. At 25 years-old he will be the youngest player to play 100 games in Super Rugby. Sekope Kepu also runs on for his 100th match. Waratahs’ fans didn’t know who he was when they recruited him.
Bernard Foley has been better during the week and has been named in the starting team, but he will still have to pass his final test. Bryce Hegarty has been named as a replacement and will start if Foley is still unfit.
Lock Will Skelton returns to the starting team and no. 8 Jed Holloway plays his first game of the season after his pre-season hamstring injury. Reserve Michael Wells will replace Holloway some time, and perhaps, early. The Tahs have decided upon a 6-2 split on the bench which anticipates a heavy track but bears risk. Ned Hanigan, also back from injury, will be the extra forward.
Scrumhalf Nick Phipps retains his starting spot after some indifferent form in the Republic, but Jake Gordon replaces Matt Lucas on the bench.
Scott Fardy comes back into the team as expected and Lolo Fakaosilea, not an openside flanker, replaces Chris Alcock, who has a concussion. Winger Nigel Ah Wong is preferred to James Dargaville this week.
The Brumbies‘ attack still relies heavily on the set pieces, which are better than that of the Tahs. The rolling maul from lineouts, which the home team had no answer to against the Lions in Johannesburg, is a primary weapon of the ACT team. It is bucketing down in Sydney as I write this and wet conditions, the habitat of the visitors, will favour the Brumbies.
Scott Fardy was strategically rested for this game. He will be looking to slow down the Waratahs’ ball so they will struggle to get their backline attack going. These were the same tactics used by the Force in Round 1.
The Waratahs returning players will make them stronger than the team than played in South Africa, although the rest of the team will be jet-lagged after travelling back from Durban.
It is a Waratahs home game but Allianz is hardly a fortress anymore.
Allianz Stadium is hardly a fortress these days
Skelton v Brumbies maul.
Mauls are the main scoring method for the Brumbies. Skelton has been known to disrupt some of them virtually on his own but it will need a team effort to defuse the Brumbies’ maul, a skill which the Waratahs have not demonstrated yet.
Waratahs backrow v Fardy
The Waratahs will have to ensure quick clean ball from rucks that Fardy will be doing his best to spoil, as mentioned. None of the Waratahs’ backrowers are renowned for cleaning players out at the breakdown; so they will need to beat Fardy to it.
Bernard Foley v Wharenui Hawera
The Waratahs’ attacking patterns have been ineffective without Foley. They work best when the flyhalf is a running threat that puts the defence in two minds. Opponents have been sliding off Hegarty and stifling the attack further out. If Foley passes his final concussion test he will make defenders watch him longer, which means Folau will get more space at outside centre and create danger.
The Brumbies’ backline attack is pedestrian and not deceptive enough. If flyhalf Hawera can initiate improvement in this area and spark his team, the Brumbies will threaten the threadbare defence of the Waratahs as the South African teams did.
Wharenui Hawera – needs to spark the Brumbies’ backline
Israel Folau v Tevita Kuridrani
Kuridrani lacks quick lateral movement as the Scots proved in November, and Folau will be able to get around him if any space is available.
Waratahs attack v Brumbies defence
The Brumbies strength in their three games has been their defence. The area Brumbies have struggled in is scoring points. The Waratahs have struggled in all facets. Their attack has been their one area that has shone; but like a lantern on a mast during a storm, it has been uneven and sporadic.
Apart from the above, the Waratahs’ discipline has been poor as has been the Brumbies’ goal kicking. Perhaps it is my heart over my head but I believe (wish) that the returning players for the Waratahs will make the difference.
Waratahs by 4
Skelton – good in the tight stuff
1. Tom Robertson
2. Tolu Latu
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Dean Mumm
5. Will Skelton
6. Jack Dempsey
7. Michael Hooper (c)
8. Jed Holloway
9. Nick Phipps
10. Bernard Foley *
11. Rob Horne
12. Irae Simone
13. Israel Folau
14. Reece Robinson
15. Andrew Kellaway
16. Hugh Roach
17. Paddy Ryan
18. David Lolohea
19. Dave McDuling
20. Ned Hanigan
21. Michael Wells
22. Jake Gordon
23. Bryce Hegarty *
1. Ben Alexander
2. Josh Mann-Rea
3. Allan Ala’alatoa
4. Rory Arnold
5. Sam Carter (c)
6. Scott Fardy
7. Lolo Fakaosilea
8. Jordan Smiler
9. Joe Powell
10. Wharenui Hawera
11. Nigel Ah Wong
12. Kyle Godwin
13. Tevita Kuridrani
14. Henry Speight
15. Aidan Toua
16. Robbie Abel
17. Nick Mayhew
18. Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin
19. Blake Enever
20. Ben Hyne
21. De Wet Roos
22. Jordan Jackson-Hope
23. Andrew Smith
Date: Saturday, March 17
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 17:45 AEST
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Aus), Will Houston (Aus)
TMO: Ian Smith (Aus)
* If Foley fails his final concussion test before the match Hegarty will start at flyhalf and David Horwitz will take his place in the reserves.