Israel Folau and company will be looking to rediscover the form that made them Vodacom Super Rugby champions against the Sharks in Sydney on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Heading into the 2015 season, these two sides were tipped for another title tilt. They topped their respective conferences last year, with the Waratahs going on to lift their inaugural title.
However, standards have dropped this year, and although this is more evident in the Sharks camp, the Waratahs have been well below their best. Their loss against the Force ended a three-match winning run and has left them just outside the play-off places. A victory against the Sharks is a must if they're to keep pace at the top of the Australian conference.
The Sharks have their own reasons to be desperate for a win. They've now lost five matches on the spin for the first time since 2000 and find themselves just a solitary point above the Cheetahs at the foot of the South African conference.
The Sharks camp have chosen to focus on the positives from the defeat against the Hurricanes. They've spoken of character and commitment, of fronting up to the challenge. All this is well and good, but the only thing that matters is the result.
Lose in Sydney and this Sharks side will equal the worst ever run by the franchise. Win, and they may yet be able to salvage something from this desperately poor season.
The Sharks will take heart from the Stormers' bonus-point victory over the same opposition earlier this season. Like the Sharks, the Cape side entered the match on the back of defeats to the Highlanders and Hurricanes, only to shock the hosts with a 32-18 win.
Their victory that day was typified by aggressive defence and clinical execution with the little ball they received. They never allowed the Waratahs' attacking unit to get going, forcing the Australians into errors and capitalising on those mistakes.
The Sharks need to use that blueprint, and the one of Jake White's successful tour of 2014, if they're to get the result they so desire. Set-piece domination, cohesion on defence and accurate tactical-kicking will give them every chance of a victory.
Lionel Cronjé was wayward in that regard against the Hurricanes, although he wasn't punished to the fullest. Israel Folau, Rob Horne and Taqele Naiyaravoro are unlikely to be as wasteful.
The Waratahs will be without Jacques Potgieter on Saturday, which is a massive positive for the Sharks. Without the combative back-rower, the Waratahs will be lacking the physical edge needed to match the Sharks.
In Marcell Coetzee and Bismarck du Plessis, the Sharks have the individuals to trouble the Waratahs on their home patch, but it will be their ability to work as a unit that will determine the outcome on Saturday.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Waratahs 11, Sharks 7, Draw 1
In Sydney: Waratahs 8, Sharks 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Waratahs have won their last seven home games against the Sharks.
– The Waratahs’ last four matches have yielded losing bonuses (won three, lost one), while their last three have seen just 86 points scored in total.
– The Sharks have lost five in a row but have only suffered six straight defeats in a single campaign once before (2000).
– The Sharks have averaged the most kicks from hand kicked (25.3) and received the most (26.5) but the Waratahs have produced the least, an average of 14.7.
– Just two sides have scored more opening-quarter tries than the Waratahs (eight), while the Sharks have scored the second fewest in the opening 20 (two).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Waratahs||Bernard Foley (99)||Peter Betham, Rob Horne, Taqele Naiyaravoro (4)||Israel Folau (1079)||Michael Hooper (127)|
|Sharks||Pat Lambie (93)||Marcell Coetzee (5)||SP Marais (701)||Marcell Coetzee (112)|
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 Stephan Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs (three to be omitted): 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Tala Gray, 23 Pat McCutcheon, 24 Brendan McKibbin, 25 Matt Carraro, 26 Peter Betham.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Kyle Cooper, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 André Esterhuizen, 23 Waylon Murray.
Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images