The ever improving Rebels will be hoping to upset the Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
With a 90% winning record in this fixture, you'd expect the Waratahs to lash the Rebels at home, but this match is not being played under normal circumstances.
The Tahs have struggled for consistency since winning the Super Rugby title in 2014, while the Rebels have gained some ground on their hosts. Yes, they are far from a complete side but at least there has been growth in their performance as opposed to the former champs who seem to be stagnating.
The Rebels lost 27-3 to the Highlanders last weekend, while the Waratahs edged the Reds 15-13, but neither side was able to put in a convincing 80-minute shift.
To make matters worse for the Waratahs, the Reds absolutely obliterated them in the scrums and outsmarted them in the lineouts too. If their experienced, yet under pressure, pack continues to play second fiddle, the Rebels may have a chance to improve on their wretched record in this fixture.
The Tahs have also been rocked by injuries to star backs Rob Horne (broken hand) and Kurtley Beale (elbow injury), who is utilised as a second playmaker.
The contest between Michael Hooper and Sean McMahon could prove to be match defining. The latter backs up the former in the Wallabies lineup, but has been in irresistible form this year. McMahon is the more abrasive of the two, with more carries and tackles this season than Hooper, who leads the way with more turnovers, passes and clean breaks.
The two fetchers are set for an intriguing confrontation, which could also determine who edges closer to a spot in Michael Cheika's Wallabies starting XV against England in June.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Waratahs 9, Rebels 1
In Sydney: Waratahs 5, Rebels 0
STATS THAT MATTER
– The Waratahs have won nine of the 10 previous encounters between these teams, including a current streak of four wins.
– The Waratahs average more points per game against the Rebels (31.8) than against any other team in the Australasian group.
– The Rebels have won two of their last three matches away from home and after a 35-9 win over the Sunwolves in round four, will be looking for back-to-back away wins for the first time since round five in 2015.
– At 55%, the Waratahs goal-kicking success is the lowest in the competition, although the Rebels are the fourth worst team (67%).
– Sean McMahon (20) has beaten more defenders than any other forward in Super Rugby this season.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Waratahs||Kurtley Beale (18)||Israel Folau, Jed Holloway (3)||Israel Folau (353)||Michael Hooper (53)|
|Rebels||Jack Debreczeni (41)||Ben Meehan (3)||Jonah Placid, Dom Shipperley (261)||
Sean McMahon (55)
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Matt Carraro, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 David Dennis, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Sam Lousi, 21 Wycliff Palu, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Andrew Kellaway.
Rebels – 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Sefa Naivalu.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffman (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP Photo