The Waratahs will be out for revenge when they take on the Brumbies in their Australian derby in Sydney on Saturday.
The home side and their Canberra-based counterparts finished as their country’s top teams in last year’s tournament but the Brumbies had the satisfaction of finishing at the top of the Australian conference – three points ahead of the ‘Tahs – and they also beat the 2014 champions in both their matches in 2016.
The Waratahs have won 13 of their previous 16 home games against the Brumbies, though were pipped in a 26-20 loss in the last such fixture which was also played in Sydney.
Although the tournament is still in its infancy, both sides are currently amongst the also rans in the standings and are yet to deliver a convincing performance in the competition.
The Waratahs are back in Australia after a disastrous tour to South Africa in which they conceded nearly a one hundred points in their defeats to the
Lions and Sharks.
The Brumbies, meanwhile head into this clash after finally registering their first win of the campaign against the Western Force last week but they had to dig deep as they did not see of their rivals from Australia’s west coast.
Despite it being early in the season, Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu admitted there will be a lot on the line against the Brumbies.
“It’s a massive game, it’s one of those one’s you really look forward to going up against guys you know at a national level,” he said.
“They (Brumbies) bring massive experience, it’s going to be a challenge. We’ve got to be on top of our game, go out and play our game.
“In the first three games we haven’t played to our full potential. We’ve got to lead the way as a front row. In a way it’s something that I’m really looking to.”
Brumbies hooker Josh Mann-Rea echoed Kepu’s sentiments and predicted a fierce battle.
“It’s the Local Derby. They have the two losses and we’re coming off a win. There is a lot to play for so it’s going to be a fierce encounter,” he said.
“Thiss week is a very special week for the Brumbies. Everyone gets pretty excited about playing the fellas up the road.
“This week everyone is a little more amped and training is more physical so it’s very exciting.”
The last time these teams met: The Brumbies cemented their status as Australia’s top team in the competition last year when they claimed a 26-20 win in Sydney after leading 19-17 at the break. Joe Tomane were the men from Canberra’s hero as he scored a hat-trick of tries and Stephen Moore also crossed the whitewash for the Brumbies. For the Waratahs, Reece Robinson and Israel Folau dotted down.
Players to watch: Although the Waratahs have made a poor start to the season, Israel Folau has been impressive and already scored three tries in as many matches. One of the game’s most potent attackers, Folau scored a try in each of the Waratahs’ two games against the Brumbies last season and has scored three tries in his last four games against the men from Canberra.
The Brumbies have been boosted by the return of Wallaby blindside flanker Scott Fardy who will be keen to make an impact in this match after being rested against the Force last weekend. Fardy’s presence will improve the Brumbies’ line-out and he is expected to be at the forefront of his side’s forward onslaught as a ball carrier and on defence.
Team news: Waratahs fly-half Bernard Foley has been ruled out of this clash as he is still recovering from a head knock sustained during the pre-season. The 27-year-old was set to make his first appearance in this year’s tournament but was ruled out when he failed to meet concussion protocols after the Waratahs’ captain’s run in Sydney on Friday. The home side welcome back Will Skelton and Jed Holloway to the starting line up with Ned Hanigan also back from injury on the bench. Bryce Hegarty, who was initially bracketed with Foley will start at fly-half for the fourth game in a row while David Horwitz will start on the replacements bench.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has made three changes to the starting XV for this clash. In the back-line, Nigel Ah Wong comes into the team in place of James Dargaville on the left wing. Meanwhile, Wallab flanker Scott Fardy, who was rested during the 25-17 win over the Force at GIO Stadium last Friday, returns in the back row in place of the impressive Ben Hyne who drops to the bench whilst Lolo Fakaosilea replaces Chris Alcock. Larkham has opted for a 5-3 split amongst his replacements for the challenge of the Waratahs with Tom Staniforth stepping down and Jordan Jackson-Hope getting an opportunity.
Form: The Waratahs started their season in Sydney but had to dig deep before eventually securing a 19-13 victory over the Western Force. They then headed on their tour to South Africa but had no success as they suffered back-to-back defeats in Johannesburg against the Lions (55-36) and Sharks (37-14).
The Brumbies faced a difficult assignment in their opener against the Crusaders in Christchurch but delivered a competitive effort before eventually losin 17-13. In their next match, they were suffered a narrow 27-22 home defeat to the Sharks but notched their first win of the campaign when they beat the Western Force 25-17 in Canberra last weekend.
Prediction: This is a difficult one to call as both sides are yet to reach their peak this year. After their win over the Force, the Brumbies hold a slight edge and Foley’s absence will be a blow for the ‘Tahs. Brumbies to win by five points.
2016: Brumbies won 26-20 in Sydney
2016: Brumbies won 32-15 in Canberra
2015: Waratahs won 13-10 in Canberra
2015: Waratahs won 28-13 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 26-8 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 39-8 in Sydney
2014: Brumbies won 28-23 in Canberra
2013: Waratahs won 28-22 in Sydney
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 David Lolohea, 19 David McDuling, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Michael Wells, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 David Horwitz
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nigel Ah Wong, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Lolo Fakaosilea, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Ben Alexander
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leulua’Iali’i-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Ben Hyne, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Andrew Smith
Date: Saturday, March 18
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:45 local (8:45 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (Australia), William Houston (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)