Preview: Reds v Waratahs

Date published: March 25 2016

An all-Aussie derby finishes off Round Five of Super Rugby on Sunday when the Reds take on the Waratahs at Suncorp.

Since their abject performance losing to the Force in Round Two, shortly before Richard Graham was sacked, the Reds have begun to flicker into life.

Now coached by Matt O'Connor (the former Leinster head coach) and Nick Stiles, the Reds narrow loss to the Rebels and draw with the Blues last weekend have provided some cause for optimism after the bleakest of starts.

Were it not for Ihaia West's 84th-minute penalty then that draw would have been a first win of the year, but to pick that up on Sunday will require the Reds to keep rapidly improving.

Three tries against the Blues doubled the Reds' tally from their first three matches and the sooner Jake McIntyre settles into the fly-half role the better. Only the Kings have made fewer offloads too before Round Five.

Surprisingly though the Reds have the best scrum success percentage in the competition at 97 percent. Build off that and they have a fighting chance.

As for the visitors, last week's topsy-turvy loss to the Highlanders nearly saw one of the most remarkable comebacks in Super Rugby history, clawing their back from a 30-0 deficit to lose 30-26.

New head coach Daryl Gibson will have been enthused by that fightback as much as he must have despaired with his team down by 30 points after 54 minutes.

The long-awaited return of Bernard Foley however is a huge boost. Australia's fly-half has finally shaken off the shoulder injury he picked up in pre-season and with Kurtley Beale shifted to inside centre the Waratahs have their potent midfield partnership in place again.

Sunday's challenge is to avoid making some unwanted history. The Waratahs have lost their last two matches and will be hoping to avoid a third consecutive defeat for the first time since a horror run of nine straight losses from 2012 to 2013.

The last time these teams met: Not long ago in the season opener. The Waratahs outscored the Reds four tries to one as Ayumu Goromaru made his Super Rugby debut. Ahead 20-0 at the break after scoring three tries in the first 25 minutes, the Waratahs never really were made to work for what was a comfortable victory.

Players to watch: The Reds aren't short on young players and 22-year-old hooker Andrew Ready is beginning to catch the eye in the set-piece, as he keeps out experienced campaigner Saia Fainga’a this week. Ready hit 16 lineouts for the Reds in their draw with the Blues last week and also looks like a useful carrier.

All the eyes will be on Foley given his return but Reece Robinson makes a first start on the wing for the Waratahs for their trip to Suncorp. The 28-year-old has plenty of experience in Rugby League and won the praises of the Waratahs coaching staff during pre-season. Now he gets a shot.

Team news: Liam Gill, James Slipper and Saia Fainga’a all return to the Reds' matchday squad. Gill has been named to start at openside flanker, while prop Slipper and hooker Fainga’a have been named in the reserves. 

Meanwhile, Foley returns to the starting fold in the number ten jersey ready to make his first appearance since the Rugby World Cup last year. Robinson gets his starting debut on the wing while three changes have also been made to the forwards with club captain Dave Dennis moving from flanker to lock, making way for hard-hitting local young gun, Jack Dempsey who is also set to make his run-on debut. Jed Holloway has been recalled to the starting lineup in the number eight jersey.

Form: After their meeting in the first week when the Waratahs won 30-10 the Reds have gone on to losses to the Force and Rebels, with a dramatic late draw last week with the Blues denying the Reds that first win of the season. The Reds haven’t gone two matches without a loss in Super Rugby since Round 17, 2014, and they’ll be aiming to equal that after a draw against the Blues in Round Four.

The Waratahs' followed up their Round One win with a heavy loss away to the Brumbies, taking a bye week before coming back to miss out in that dramatic game with the Highlanders. The Waratahs have won their last five matches against the Reds, conceded only 28 points across that period. Prior to that the Reds had also won five straight matches in this fixture.

Prediction: The Reds look more compact and seem like a better outfit than the horrorshow we saw back at the start of the season, under the guidance of O'Connor and Stiles, but have they done enough to flip over the Waratahs? If the visitors play like they did in the first against the Highlanders, then yes. If they play more like the second half, this won't be an upset. Waratahs by six.

Previous results:

2016: Waratahs won 30-10 in Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 31-5 in Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 23-5 in Brisbane
2014: Waratahs won 34-3 in Brisbane
2014: Waratahs won 32-5 in Sydney
2013: Reds won 14-12 in Sydney
2013: Reds won 25-17 in Brisbane
2012: Reds won 32-16 in Brisbane

The teams:

Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 Sef Fa’agase
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ayumu Goromaru

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

Date: Sunday, March 27
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 15:05 local (05:05 GMT)
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Graham Cooper, Damien Mitchelmore
TMO: George Ayoub