Israel Folau will face a tough defensive test when the Waratahs host the Brumbies in Sydney on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The Waratahs look a shadow of the title-winning side of 2014, having won just two games so far this season – both against the Reds – and lost three.
The Brumbies, on the other hand, made a storming start to their campaign, but have faded in recent weeks with heavy defeats to the Stormers in Cape Town and the Chiefs in Canberra. Add the suspension of star flanker David Pocock and the forced retirement of blockbusting No 8 Ita Vaea because of a serious heart condition, and the Brumbies are a team in a bit of a mini-crisis.
With both sides in dire need of a confidence-boosting win to get their season back on track, what is rated as Australia's most glamorous fixture could well turn into the most scrappy.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has long expressed his desire to move Folau closer to the action, and he's finally done so by selecting their go-to man at outside centre, with the returning Kurtley Beale at 12. And with Tevita Kuridrani and Matt Toomua guarding the Brumbies midfield, the battle between the Wallabies foursome could well dictate which way this result goes.
Folau is the least experienced in that position. He almost certainly will add a different dimension to the Waratahs' attack, but he will also be tasked with defending Kuridrani's channel. Kuridrani, a strong runner with ball in hand, has outfoxed some of the best defenders in the competition. Folau will have his work cut out to contain his Wallabies teammate.
Another duel that will play a crucial role in this match is the breakdown battle between the two back rows. The Brumbies did not have the luxury of selecting Pocock, the competition's leading poacher, for this encounter, but Scott Fardy has made more turnovers than any Waratahs player. If Fardy and co rule the breakdown and Kuridrani is allowed to roam free, the Brumbies will have a field day against the frail Waratahs defence.
Folau's positional shift sees Andre Kellaway earn his first start at fullback, with Beale replacing David Horwitz and Matt Carraro starting on the wing in place of Zac Guildford. Among the fowards, lock Will Skelton is injected into the run-on XV, while Tom Robertson earns a first start at tighthead prop.
There are two changes to the Brumbies side with Jarrad Butler and Jordan Smiler coming in for Pocock and Vaea.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Waratahs 16, Brumbies 12
In Sydney: Waratahs 13, Brumbies 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Waratahs have won four of their last five matches against the Brumbies, though the ACT side snapped that streak with a 32-15 win in their last encounter.
– The Waratahs have won nine of their last 11 home matches against teams from within Australia, keeping their opponents to eight points or fewer in five of those matches.
– In the Brumbies' last 12 matches, the side leading at half-time has gone on to win each time (excluding one drawn game at half-time).
– The Brumbies have conceded only 14 points in the opening quarter of matches so far this season; only the Stormers (nine) have conceded fewer.
– The Waratahs' Nick Phipps and the Brumbies' Tomás Cubelli have three try assists this season, the joint most of any players in the Australian conference.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Waratahs||Kurtley Beale (18)||Israel Folau, Jed Holloway (3)||Israel Folau (418)||Michael Hooper (69)|
|Brumbies||Christian Leali'ifano (70)||Josh Mann-Rea, Joe Tomane, Stephen Moore, Scott Fardy (2)||Joe Tomane (282)||David Pocock (59)|
Waratahs – 15 Andrew Kellaway 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Matt Carraro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Tom Robertson 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Angus Ta’avo, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Dave Dennis, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 David Horwitz.
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Robbie Coleman, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Leali'ifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Joe Powell, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images