Waratahs v Lions Preview - Green and Gold Rugby
NSW Waratahs

Waratahs v Lions Preview

Waratahs v Lions Preview

The Waratahs African Safari continues late Saturday night when they travel to the scene of their 2018 Semi-Final exit, Ellis Park. With the Australian conference now a four-horse race following wins to the Brumbies and Reds last weekend, it is shaping as a must-win game for the New South Welshmen.

The Form

The Waratahs were unlucky to go down by 7 points last week against the Bulls in Pretoria, in what was a much-improved performance to the trash they served up at Home against the Stormers the week prior. Still, two consecutive losses to South African opposition has the Tahs season sitting on a knife-edge.  Daryl Gibson’s gameplan was evident last week; he knew the Bulls had the physical edge, so he told his players to run and gave them the licence to offload. This culminated in some fantastic expansive rugby that wore the big bulls pack down and very nearly led to a rare win (or draw) at altitude in Pretoria.  Unfortunately, the Bulls dominance up front, particularly at scrum time was too much to overcome for the tourists and saw them leave Pretoria with just a losing bonus point.

Fresh off a bye, the Lions returned home from their Australasian tour with just one win. Their last start was a 26-point loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch and has seen them drop to the unfamiliar spot of fifth in the African conference. They are very much alive, however, with only 6 points separating them from the 1st place Bulls and with the remainder of their games in Africa, four of the next five in J’Burg, you would be a brave man to bet against Super Rugby’s perennial bride maids not featuring come finals time.

Team News

Michael Wells breaks tackle Waratahs v Rebels 2019 (Credit Keith McInnes)

Wells come back

Three changes to the Waratahs starting side to run out onto Ellis Park. Micheal Wells has been rushed back into the XV after recovering from injury. His return sees the improving Ned Hanigan shifted to his favoured position of blindside flanker with Lachie Swinton dropping out of the 23 altogether. Out wide Adam Ashley-Cooper’s hopes of a Wallabies return have taken another hit, with the veteran dropped to make way for Lalakai Foketi. Curtis Rona’s up and down season continues with the former NRL flyer also dropping back to the bench to make way for Alex Newsome.

Several big-name inclusions for The Lions as they welcome back inspirational skipper Warren Whiteley, hooker Malcolm Marx and inside centre Harold Vorster as well as Springbok winger Courtnall Skosan.

Key Match-ups

Malcolm Marx vs Damien Fitzpatrick

Damien Fitzpatrick gets a chance to prove his test credentials when he faces off against the premier hooker in World Rugby Malcolm Marx. The Wallabies hooker spot is still very much up for grabs, but you would have to say Folau Faingaa is now the clear front runner. While Fitzpatrick probably has the better set-piece game, he is a lot less damaging around the park to the other Wallaby hooking options. If he can prove, he can match Marx’ physicality and abrasive style it would go a long way at the Wallabies selection table. Marx has been in good form in 2019 and would have no doubt taken note of how the Bulls pack were able to bully the Tahs last weekend.

Aphiwe Dyantyi vs Alex Newsome

The Waratahs winger merry go-around kept spinning this week with Alex Newsome’s consistency seemingly preferred to Curtis Rona’s elusiveness. Newsome hasn’t put a foot wrong in 2019, and if he can find his nose to the try line a little bit more often, he shapes as a mainstay for the Waratahs for years to come. You sense he has been bought in as a more solid defensive option to mark the dangerous Aphiwe Dyanti – The Waratahs won’t have forgotten the Lion’s speedster’s outstanding chip and chase try in the semi-final last year.  Dyantyi was perhaps the find of 2018 for South African Rugby. The winger burst on to the scene for the Lions in round 1 2018 and immediately established himself as their first-choice winger, trailing only Marx for tries scored in 2018.  His form was rewarded with a Springboks call-up, in which he scored a try on debut against England in June. It was in the Rugby championship he came alight scoring five tries for the Tournament including two against the All Blacks in South Africa’s first win on NZ soil since 2009.


Elton Jantjes kicks a conversion

Elton Jantjes kicks a conversion

WARATAHS (15-1): Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Lalakai Foketi, Karmichael Hunt, Cam Clark, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper ©, Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes.

LIONS  (15-1) Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi; Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje; Warren Whiteley ©, Vincent Tshituka, Kwagga Smith, Marvin Orie, Stephan Lewies, Carlu Sadie, Malcolm Marx, Sti Sithole.


Despite a rough run of form, it’s hard to tip against the Lions in this one. They have won the last four meetings between the sides, including the infamous 29-0 shutout in Sydney last season. The Tahs will again try to play a fast-paced, up-tempo game against the likes of Marx, Whiteley and Kwagga Smith and if they can execute it at a higher percentage, they are every danger of running away with this one. It’s high stakes on the highveld but with the Tahs nearing the end of their tour and the Lions fresh off a bye they should have too much in the tank for the men in sky blue.  Lions by 8….

  • formerflanker

    Go the ‘Tahs!
    A little more beef in the forwards with Hanigan out of the ‘row. He plays well at 6 but isn’t the monster we need to win scrums.

    • Adrian

      With no big bopper locks, I think they have used the best scrum pushing locks, which is unlucky for Swinton, but a good move.

      I think they will have practiced lots of scrums this week.

      Latu has the strength to hold up the bench props in the last 20 I think…so long as he stays on the field!

      I can see lots of running as per last week, with kicks to Newsome who is good in the air.

      They hope to lead, and hold on in the last 20.

      Bookies say Lions by 7.5. They are probably right, but my gut feeling is Tahs by 4, OR Lions by 20,… courtesy of I$$y dis+rac+ions

      • idiot savant

        Im backing the Tahs for this one. They know they have to win and will dig deep in defence. If they are close with 20 to go their bench has a lot of class. just have to watch the mistakes. Beale needs to not try too hard and and Latu needs to be disciplined.

        • Adrian

          Good points idiot.
          Beale trying too hard might well be the issue on days when he’s not so good.

          I agree they can do it, I just hope too much shit hasn’t gone into their heads!

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        Latu almost always wins the game in the last 20.

        The problem is that one can never be sure which team he will win the game for..

  • Cameron Rivett

    Adam Ashley-Cooper might not have the same impact that he used to but boy I sure wouldn’t be dropping him from the 23 altogether, not with the experience and utility he brings to the table.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      I don’t see the point of him to be honest. He’s living off his name, not his performances.

  • Timbo

    If the tahs can negate Marx, Kwagga Smith, Whitely and Jantjies, they may have a chance. Good luck to them. Stopping Kwagga Smith and Marx is probably the hardest thing to do agains SA teams. Whitely is an exceptional ‘lead by example’ player as Jantjies can be put off his game. If only they had someone who could diffuse high balls and collect kick offs

  • Huw Tindall

    Ready for my weekly dose of hope and disappointment by a Tahs fan!

    If the season is anything to go by Tahs will lose by <7 in a relatively low scoring affair with no side getting more than 3 tries.

    Tahs season is characterised by the word 'almost'. 5 losing bonus points. I don't see that changing this weekend. Same old bully tactics to stifle the forward momentum. If Tahs scrum doesn't fold they are chance. Simple as that.

  • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

    Fitzpatrick is better than Faingaa in the set piece, what?

    Fitzpatrick’s line out throwing goes awry like Faingaa’s, but Faingaa is an incomparably better scrummager and mauler.

    • IIPA

      Not sure your exaggeration is quite conclusive. Faingaa has the consensus wallaby 1 and 3 either side of him and a much bigger back five behind him.

      Fitz is the least poor lineout thrower of the lot.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        So the Brumbies’ set piece is much better than the Tahs. If we are going to subscribe that to the entire tight 5 (fair enough) then how exactly do we measure Fitzpatrick being better then?

        The Waratahs’ scrum is utterly woeful and has been for years, despite Kepu being one of the best Wallaby props in decades. Same with the Waratahs’ maul.

        The line out stats between the two teams are within 2%. Not a statistically significant difference. I think they’re pretty comparable throwing.

        • IIPA

          but I didn’t say he was better, you described him baselessly as incomparably inferior or some such.

          FF has much better targets than Fitzpatrick who has spent most of the year throwing with one genuine lock. Look at this week. A 6 in the second row, four shortish backrowers in the 23. FF’s stats should be streets ahead.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          But all the available evidence indicates that Faingaa is significantly superior in the scrum and maul?

          Simmons, Hanigan, Holloway are all very good targets I think.

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