The Waratahs have to beat the Blues in Auckland on Friday to stand any chance of qualifying for the playoffs, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Tahs are second in the Australian conference with 39 points, the same as the Brumbies, who have one more victory. Last week, the Brumbies suffered a 40-15 defeat to the Blues in Auckland, but the Waratahs failed to take advantage of that slip-up, losing 28-17 to the Hurricanes in Sydney.
The Tahs now have to beat the Blues in their final conference fixture and hope the Brumbies suffer a shock defeat to the Force (who are last in the Australasian group) in Canberra. The Sydney-based side could also progress if they get a bonus-point win and the Brumbies beat the Force but fail to score three or more tries than their opponents.
Unfortunately for Michael Hooper's men, both of those scenarios are highly unlikely.
The Blues may be last in the New Zealand conference, but they showed last week that they are better than Australia's current conference leaders. History also doesn't favour the Tahs, who have lost nine of their 10 matches against the Blues at Eden Park, with their only success coming in 2009.
Expect both teams to play an expansive, attacking game; the Blues because they have nothing to lose and the Waratahs because they need a try-scoring bonus-point win to really put the Brumbies under pressure.
The Blues have named an unchanged starting lineup for this clash, while the Waratahs have made four changes. After an impressive performance off the bench last week, Jack Dempsey will start at blindside flank, with Dean Mumm shifting to the second row and Dave Dennis moving from lock to No 8. Reece Robinson will start on the right wing in place of the suspended Taqele Naiyaravoro.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Blues 12, Waratahs 8
In Auckland: Blues 9, Waratahs 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Waratahs have won five of their last seven regular season fixtures against the Blues, including a 23-11 victory in their last encounter.
– The Blues have won nine of their 10 home games against the Waratahs; the only time the Tahs travelled to Auckland and beat them was in 2009.
– The Blues are undefeated in their last four games against Australian opposition (won three, drew one) while they haven’t lost a home game to an Australian team since May 2013.
– The Blues have led at half-time in each of their last four Super Rugby fixtures, their longest such streak since 2013, although they’ve gone on to lose two of those games.
– Only one of the Waratahs’ last 12 Super Rugby fixtures has been won by a team trailing at the half-time break.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Blues||Ihaia West (130)||Jerome Kaino (6)||Melani Nanai (754)||Jerome Kaino (103)|
|Waratahs||Bernard Foley (112)||Israel Folau (10)||Israel Folau (1,123)||Michael Hooper (142)|
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Male Sa’u, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo/Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt Vaega/George Moala, 23 Lolagi Visinia.
Waratahs – 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Matt Carraro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Jim Stewart.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images