The Waratahs return to home soil from South Africa full of confidence as they prepare to face the Cheetahs at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
A last-ditch win over the Stormers at Newlands was wildly celebrated by the ‘Tahs and rightly so as they push hard to be Australia’s top dog. That victory has handed them an excellent opportunity to do so, particularly with the Rebels on a bye week and Brumbies injury-hit.
The Waratahs still have a game in hand on their rivals and being level on points with the Brumbies, who face the Bulls on Friday and just two off the Melbourne franchise, means their fate is very much in their hands. Not bad for a side that lost four of their first six games.
But they cannot write off this Cheetahs side as they have been stung by them in the past on more than one occasion. In fact the Waratahs have lost three of their last four Super Rugby fixtures against the South African side, though two of those wins were by a single point.
Francois Venter’s return to centre is a big boost for the visitors and if he can click with Sergeal Petersen, Nico Lee and Fred Zeilinga, they have a chance of continuing their role as being the scourge of Sydney. Indeed their last defeat at this venue came way back in 2010.
Losing at the Reds last week was a disappointing showing and they will be determined to end this tour, like the ‘Tahs, on a positive note before heading home to host the Kings. The Waratahs though are mixing their game well at the moment and in Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau they have a midfield partnership that is developing very nicely. Will Skelton is also in great form alongside Dean Mumm and Jed Holloway.
Like their last meeting in Bloemfontein, plenty of points could be on the cards but on this occasion the Waratahs should come out on top.
The last time these teams met: It was a high-scoring game between the Cheetahs and Waratahs last year as the latter ran out 58-33 winners thanks to tries from Israel Folau (3), Michael Hooper, Matt Carraro (2), Taqele Naiyaravoro, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Bernard Foley. Their clinical attack was not replicated in defence though as Francois Venter (2), Cornal Hendricks (2) and Boom Prinsloo scored for the hosts.
Players to watch: While Hugh Roach has done more than a decent job at hooker, the return of Tatafu Polota-Nau is a boost for the Waratahs. When in top form he’s a powerful carrier but concerns over his fitness after several concussions and other injuries have limited his game-time of late. Fears over his playing future are a constant worry but there’s no doubt when carrying and tackling, Polota-Nau is a warrior.
For the Cheetahs the return of Francois Venter is a welcome one after last week’s disappointing showing in Brisbane. He is the glue that holds this backline together and was enjoying an excellent season before pulling out of that game. Venter has formed a decent partnership in midfield with Nico Lee but with so many changes up front, will they see enough ball? This new-look pack needs to front up on Saturday.
Team news: The Waratahs will run out with a similar line-up from last week. Only one change has been made, with hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau making his return to the starting side for the first time since round two this season, injecting some added experience to the front-row.
Meanwhile, Ox Nche, Elandre Huggett, Luan de Bruin, Francois Uys, Willie Britz and Oupa Mohoje are all included as starters for the away side, with Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais, Maks van Dyk, Lodewyk de Jager and Uzair Cassiem named on the replacements bench. Tian Meyer and Shaun Venter switch places at scrum-half with Venter on the bench. Captain Francois Venter is back at centre after an injury.
Form: The Waratahs enter this game following two wins, over the Force and most recently in Cape Town against the Stormers so their flight home would have been a good one. In contrast the Cheetahs come into this game on the back of back-to-back losses on Australian soil, this after they demolished the Sunwolves 92-17 in a result that looked to have been a turning point in their season. Alas it was not the case.
Prediction: Team news suggests only one winner in Sydney as the home side should get plenty of front-foot ball. Waratahs to prevail by 15.
2015: Waratahs won 58-33 in Bloemfontein
2013: Cheetahs won 27-26 in Sydney
2012: Cheetahs won 35-34 in Bloemfontein
2011: Cheetahs won 23-3 in Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 40-17 in Sydney
2009: Waratahs won 18-10 in Bloemfontein
2008: Waratahs won 23-19 in Sydney
2007: Cheetahs won 30-26 in Kimberley
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Will Skelton, 4 David Dennis, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Angus Taavao, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Matt Carraro
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Francois Venter (c), 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Willie Britz, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Elandre Huggett, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Michael van der Spuy
Date: Saturday, May 7
Venue: Allianz Stadium
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Referees: Andrew Lees, Graham Cooper
TMO: George Ayoub