Jacques Potgieter will look to continue from where he left off when the Waratahs resume their campaign with a match against the Brumbies in Sydney on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
It says something for the season Potgieter's had for the Waratahs that he is starting at No 4 lock ahead of Will Skelton, who made an excellent Test debut for the Wallabies against France last week.
The former Bull has started eight of the Waratahs' 10 matches this season – four at No 4 lock, one at No 5 lock and six at blindside flank – with his two appearances off the bench coming as a lock. However, there's been one constant – the impact Potgieter has made as a ball-carrier and in the lineouts. So good has he been that the Bulls must be wishing they had never let him go, and doing all they can to bring him back.
The Waratahs have made just one change to the starting XV that beat the Chiefs 33-17 in New Plymouth on 31 May with Sekope Kepu getting the No 3 jersey. The four log points picked up against the defending champions took the Tahs to within two of the Sharks at the top of the combined log with a game in hand, and a win against the Brumbies would put them in pole position to secure a home semi-final and possible final.
The Brumbies are coming off a 37-10 home win against the Rebels in round 16, but defeats to the Cheetahs and Bulls in South Africa have seen them slip to fourth on the combined log, three points behind the Tahs. A loss in Sydney on Saturday and they can kiss the Australian conference trophy goodbye.
Injuries have forced the Canberra-based side to make several changes. Most notably, prop Ruaidhrí Murphy, who played for Ireland at U19 and U20 levels, will make his first appearance as a hooker in the absence of Stephen Moore, Siliva Siliva and Josh Mann-Rea, while Christian Lealiifano starts at flyhalf, in place of Matt Toomua, for the first time since April 2013.
The last time these teams met, in Canberra on 15 March, the Brumbies won 28-23, but they've only twice tasted success in Sydney in 12 matches.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Waratahs 12, Brumbies 11
In Sydney: Waratahs 10, Brumbies 2
POTGIETER'S STATS THAT MATTER
24 – The number of lineouts he's won on his own throw (Rank 32)
2 – The number of lineouts he's stolen (Rank 36)
93 – The number of carries he's made (Rank 50)
79 – The number of tackles he's made (Rank 73)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 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, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 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 Will Skelton, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 24 Cam Crawford.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Leon Power, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Ruaidhrí Murphy, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 JP Smith, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Jack Whetton, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Clyde Rathbone, 23 Lionel Cronjé.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images