Jacques Potgieter will be hoping to make another big impact for the Waratahs when they tackle the Force in Sydney on Sunday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Potgieter had a dream first season with the Tahs in 2014, helping them win their maiden Vodacom Super Rugby title while enhancing his own reputation. Having been used as a one-dimensional battering ram during his two-year stint with the Bulls, he became a more rounded and skillful player under Tahs coach Michael Cheika.
Many thought the 28-year-old was unlucky not to be recalled to the Bok squad following last year's Super Rugby tournament, and while he remains an outside bet for the World Cup squad, another strong season could force Heyneke Meyer's hand.
Potgieter played 13 matches at lock and five at openside flank last year, and will start 2015 in the No 6 jersey.
For the first time in the 20-year history of Super Rugby, the Waratahs will go into a campaign as defending champions, knowing they have been there, done that, and can do it again. Cheika has remained Tahs coach despite having taken the Wallabies job, and with the vast majority of last year's squad still in Sydney, continuity will not be a problem.
The Waratahs beat the Chiefs 38-36 in their only proper pre-season hitout, while the Force beat the Brumbies (31-21) and the Asia Pacific Dragons (38-19).
The Perth-based team had their best ever season in 2014, winning nine matches to finish eighth, and will believe that they can qualify for the play-offs in 2015.
The Tahs beat the Force 34-21 in Sydney last year, but lost the corresponding fixture in Perth 28-16. The Force were one of just four sides to defeat the eventual champions in 2014, but have lost their opening fixture of the season every year since joining the competition in 2006.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Waratahs 9, Force 3, Draw 1
In Sydney: Waratahs 3, Force 2, Draw 1
POTGIETER'S STATS THAT MATTER
126 – The number of ball-carries he made in last year's Super Rugby tournament (Rank 28)
12 – The number of offloads he made (Rank 50)
29 – The number of lineouts he won on his own throw (Rank 30)
2 – The number of lineouts he stole (Rank 43)
98 – The number of tackles he made (Rank 69)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dave Dennis (c), 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Stephan Hoiles, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Solomoni Jnr Rasolea, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2. Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Luke Burton.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images