The Waratahs and Force will take good pre-season form into their opening Super Rugby match in Sydney on Sunday.
While the Tahs lost their first warm-up fixture narrowly against the Rebels, they secured fine victories over the Blues and Highlanders. The Force's pre-season programme saw them playing two matches, against Samoa A and Argentina's Pampas, and they won both convincingly.
After last year's indifferent form, Waratahs supporters expect a much better overall effort from their side and they will fancy their chances of making a positive start to the season against the Force, who they have beaten in eight of their 11 previous matches. They should, however, not underestimate their opponents, who won two and drew one of the three remaining fixtures and interestingly all of those results came in Sydney.
The big talking point from the Waratahs camp is the selection of Wallabies stalwart Kurtley Beale at inside centre. As a fullback or flyhalf, he is among the best in the business – especially on attack – but it will be interesting to see how he performs in his new role and how his battle with the Force's highly-rated midfielder Kyle Godwin pans out.
Much has also been made of the breakdown duel. Waratahs No 8 Wycliff Palu has identified this as one of the Force's strengths and with Wallabies scavenger Michael Hooper in the homeside's ranks and Matt Hodgson wearing the Force's No 7 jersey, we can expect a spectacular battle for the loose ball.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Tola Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Stephen Hoiles/Pat McCutcheon, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Rob Horne, 23 Matt Carraro/Cam Crawford.
Force – 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Marcel Brache/Patrick Dellit, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn/Zack Holmes, 9 Alby Mathewson/Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman/Brynard Stander, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Chris Alcock/Angus Cottrell, 5 Hugh McMeniman/Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Ollie Hoskins/Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles/Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan/Tetera Faulkner
Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images