Openside flank Michael Hooper can get the Waratahs over the line when they face the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The Waratahs got their Vodacom Super Rugby title defence off to a rocky start with a below-par performance in Sydney that resulted in an unlikely 10-point loss to the Force. And while the score might suggest a close encounter, Michael Cheika's team were well and truly beaten by a gallant Force side.
Cheika's hopes of fielding an unchanged starting XV for their clash with the Rebels, were dealt a blow by the withdrawal of Wycliff Palu because of a troublesome knee and the bulky No 8's absence makes Hooper all the more important to the Waratahs' cause.
The 2014 champions effected just one turnover and conceded four tries against the Force and Hooper, who will play in his 61st consecutive Super Rugby match, will have to call on his ability to disrupt the opposition at the breakdown and his defensive prowess to change his side's fortunes.
Still on a high in the aftermath of their famous win over the Crusaders, it'll be a confident Rebels outfit who await the Waratahs. They too have made one forced change, with scrumhalf Luke Burgess coming in for the suspended Nic Stirzaker, and youngster Ben Meehan taking up the vacant position on the bench.
The Rebels have been on the receiving end in this particular fixture, with seven defeats and one victory, but based on the results and quality of opposition in the opening round, will feel they are in with a great chance to improve that win-loss ratio.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Rebels 1, Waratahs 7
In Melbourne: Rebels 1, Waratahs 3
STATS AND FACTS
– Against the Force, the 2014 champions conceded four tries in a home match for the first time since June 2012 (vs Hurricanes).
– The Tahs have won seven of eight games (lost one) against the Melbourne side, denying the Rebels a bonus point in all but one of those seven victories.
– The Waratahs have never lost their opening two matches of a Super Rugby season.
– The Waratahs managed the best tackling success rate (92%) in the opening round, but won just one turnover, a weekend low. They also won all 10 of their lineouts and stole ball from the Force on four occasions.
– In contrast, no side lost more lineouts on their own throw than the Rebels in round one (four).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Rebels||Mike Harris (10)||Lopeti Timani & Nic Stirzaker (1)||Nic Stirzaker (79)||Pat Leafa (11)|
|Waratahs||Rob Horne (10)||Rob Horne (2)||Israel Folau (67)||Michael Hooper (16)|
Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Sefanaia Naivalu.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravaro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jaques Potgieter, 5 Will Skelton, 4 David Dennis (c), 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs (one to be omitted): 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Matt Carraro, 23 Pat McCutcheon, 24 Peter Betham.
Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images