• Hooper the heartbeat of the Waratahs

    The Waratahs will continue to play the right way under Michael Hooper and should blow the Reds away in Brisbane, writes BRENTON CHELIN.

    The Tahs have had it all this season – style, substance and a forward pack as imposing as they've ever produced – they are the real deal. They've scored more and conceded less points than any other team in the competition. The two teams currently trailing them on the log may have only one win less over the season, but in truth they have been a class apart.

    At the forefront of their challenge has been the classy Michael Hooper; the guile among the grunt of their forward pack. He may not offer the ball-carrying ability of Wycliff Palu and a Willem Alberts, but his work on the ground is no less important to his team's cause. Only Matt Hodgson has managed more turnovers than the Tahs flanker this season, but it is what the Tahs can do once the ball has been turned over that makes this team as dangerous a proposition as any.

    The Reds will have to starve the Waratahs of the ball if they are to get anything out of this one. Unfortunately for the side from Queensland, if you manage to shut out one player another will slip through your grasp. The Tahs have game breakers across the park. They have scored 15 tries from possession won in their own half this season, only the Hurricanes have managed more.

    However, the Waratahs will be without the services of Israel Folau for this one after he was ruled out with a thigh injury. His place will be taken by Cam Crawford. Up front, the behemoth Will Skelton rotates at lock with Jacques Potgieter, with the latter dropping to the bench.

    The Reds have also made two changes for this one with Greg Holmes replacing Ben Daley in the front row, while scrumhalf Scott Gale will start his first match for the Reds.

    The Tahs will be looking for their eighth win on the trot and will be hoping to complete the double over the Reds having romped to victory over the Reds 32-5 earlier this season.

    HEAD TO HEAD
    Overall: Reds 13, Waratahs 8, Draws 1
    In Brisbane: Reds 7, Waratahs 3, Draws 1

    HOOPER'S STATS THAT MATTER
    20 – The number of turnovers he has won so far this season (Rank 2)
    99 – The number of tackles he has made this season (Rank 4)
    73 – The number of carries he has made this season (Rank 24)
    Source: Vodacom Stats App

    Reds – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Scott Gale, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
    Subs: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Albert Anae, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Sam Johnson, 22 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 23 Chris Kuridrani.

    Waratahs – 15 Cam Crawford, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Stephen Hoiles , 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
    Subs (one to be omitted): 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Michael Ala'alatoa, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Pat McCutcheon , 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Jono Lance, 24 Taqele Naiyaravoro.

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    Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images