Super Rugby Match Preview
Sunday, 18th March 2018
Waratahs vs Rebels
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kickoff: 16h05 Local Time, 05h05 GMT, 07h05 SA Time
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
As I sat thinking about this game and what I should say about it, a thought started to niggle in the back of my mind.
We are talking about two teams that play two different styles of rugby. One, the Waratahs, play Michael Cheika-style rugby, and the other, the Rebels, play Dave Wessels-style rugby.
The Waratahs play a game based on taking the ball to ground after contact, and then recycling it to play on. They focus on going “through the phases” with retention more important than attacking flair. This has been the Wallaby model under Cheika, and he brought it to the national team from his days as ‘Tahs coach.
The second leg of the ‘Tahs approach is to try and take the loose ball and second phase ball away from their opponents. They send some pacey loosies roaming around to try and steal as many balls as possible in the rucks and at break downs. Pretty much the same game as we see from the Wallabies too. Hooper, Pocock, Farley, Wells, Holloway… That is the way they play the game.
It is not a game-plan that works too well in 2018.
The Rebels have taken note of the new ruck laws, and have based their game on trying to keep on their feet instead of going to ground, and keeping the ball alive.
This is clever thinking. (Dave Wessels take a bow.) The 2018 stats are showing us that turnovers on the ground and stolen balls are far more difficult this year than before. In some games the number of stolen balls and turnovers is right down at two or three per game.
Last week’s Rebel win over the Brumbies was a case in point. The Rebels played to the referee’s interpretation of the new laws, while the Brumbies did not.
The days of the roving loose-forward, ala Hooper and Pocock, may be over.
Dave Wessels is doing a great job in Melbourne and has produced a side brimming with confidence.
In contrast, the Waratahs are looking slow and somewhat bewildered on the field, although they do have some very good runners and finishers in the team.
The Waratahs have made several changes to their starting line-up for Sunday.
The biggest surprise is the shift of Israel Folau from full-back to right wing in place of Alex Newsome. Bryce Hegarty will wear the number 15 jersey. In 2017 the ‘Tahs experimented with Folau at outside centre, and now we are seeing him shifted to the wing. I wonder?
Sekope Kepu replaces Paddy Ryan in the front row, lock Rob Simmons comes in for Tom Staniforth, and Mitch Short will start at scrum-half.
The Rebels have made four changes to their match-day squad.
Team captain Adam Coleman returns to the second-row with Ross Haylett-Petty shifted to the flank, while Marika Koroibete will make his first start of the year out on the wing.
Anaru Rangi makes his debut at hooker.
The Waratahs started their season with a win, then they played to draw and then dropped down one more notch to a loss, in their first three games of the season.
In none of their three games have they looked like a team that is finding form, no matter the result. Their efforts have been disjointed, with no real game plan, and a back division attack that focusses on getting the ball to Kurtley Beale or Israel Folau. If they do not make something of the possession, the ‘Tahs go nowhere.
Their forward pack has creaked and groaned under pressure, and their loose forwards have not played as a unit, each of the trio doing his own thing in pursuit of the ball.
The Rebels are playing like a cohesive team, and have shown some form in 2018. They lead the overall log and the Aussie conference. They seem to have gelled as a team, and are playing a game-plan that we see from some Northern Hemisphere sides. Instead of chasing the ball on the ground, they work to keep the opposition on their feet in contact, driving, mauling, and getting the ball out quickly while tying in the defenders, and using their bigger loosies to play directly off the line on the next phase.
This has worked against their fellow Aussie Conference residents. Whether it will work against more adept sides, such as the New Zealanders and some of the South Africans, remains to be seen, but the system is very likely to work well against the ‘Tahs.
The Rebels are the form side in OZ. They have the confidence that comes from winning, and they have the players to make it four out of four this weekend.
The Waratahs are none of the above.
Rebels to win by seven.
Waratahs: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Mitchell Short, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Michael Wells, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Alex Newsome, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro
Rebels: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Ross Haylett-Petty, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Mahe Vailanu, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Colby Fainga’a, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Billy Meakes, 23 Sefa Naivalu