Tahs pack to punish Highlanders

The Waratahs should target the injury-hit Highlanders up front in Sydney this Friday, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley is unavailable due to a shoulder injury. Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau has been ruled out for two months after breaking his wrist in the recent fixture against the Lions. Despite these setbacks, the Waratahs still have the personnel to claim a big win over the Highlanders this weekend.

The Highlanders smashed the Lions in Dunedin. Their forwards were exceptional at the set pieces and breakdowns. Their backs used turnover ball to great effect. Last week, the Highlanders returned to the game plan that, against most predictions, won them the Super Rugby trophy in 2015.

You would expect them to ride the momentum into the next clash against the Waratahs in Sydney. The Highlanders have a good record against the Waratahs. Jamie Joseph's men were deserved winners in the 2015 semi-final, and weren't daunted by the fact that the fixture was played in Sydney.

That said, the Highlanders will travel to the New South Wales capital this Friday without several key players. The battle against the Lions has certainly taken its toll.

Wing Patrick Osborne and forwards Joe Wheeler, Dan Pryor and Luke Whitelock will all miss the clash due to injuries. Those are some significant losses ahead of a contest in which set-piece dominance will be crucial to overall success.

The Waratahs side is stacked with Wallabies, and their all-star back row could also have a telling say in proceedings. No 8 Wycliff Palu has been promoted to the starting XV, and will be determined to prove a point with ball in hand.

Overall: Waratahs 13, Highlanders 7
In Sydney: Waratahs 7, Highlanders 3

– The Highlanders have won four of their last six matches against the Waratahs.
– The Waratahs have won three of the most recent four matches between these sides played in Australia.
– The Waratahs have won seven of their last nine matches against New Zealand opponents, though both their losses in that span have been against the Highlanders.
– The Highlanders have won only three of their last 17 matches in Australia, though two of those wins came in their two most recent such fixtures, one against the Waratahs in the 2015 semi-finals.
– Ben Smith (five) has had the most try involvements of any player so far this season with three tries and two try assists.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Waratahs Kurtley Beale (12) Nick Phipps (2) Israel Folau (163) Michael Hooper (36)
Highlanders Lima Sopoaga (32) Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa (2) Ben Smith (236) Dan Prior (37)

Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 David Dennis, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Paddy Ryan.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Reece Robinson.

Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Ryan Tongia, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (c), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Jason Emery.

Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)

Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

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