Preview: Waratahs v Rebels

Date published: May 19 2017

A Sunday Australian derby will round off the action in Round 13 of Super Rugby when the Waratahs host the Rebels.

This has certainly not been a year for either side to write home about, with just four wins between the two of them, but when the two did meet in Melbourne earlier this year they served up one of the more dramatic finishes we’re likely to see in 2017.

David Horwitz’s try that day snatched victory for the Waratahs having been down by 19 points at the break, naturally prompting despair from the Rebels players and supporters, and that has very much been the mood around AAMI Park this year with the threat of being cut by the ARU still looming.

The Waratahs of course have had their own lows, the defeat from the Kings providing the year’s biggest shock without a doubt.

Even edging out the Reds on their return to action was not really enough to convince anybody that Daryl Gibson’s team are on the up, and the 33-40 scoreline before their Round 12 bye against the Blues doesn’t quite tell the full story of how the Blues opened up the ‘Tahs defence with ease.

Confidence and form therefore are not easy to come by for either side, but, that is not necessarily a bad thing for this fixture. As we have seen when the Crusaders have taken on the Chiefs and Hurricanes in the last couple of weeks, pitting two sides level on ability up against each other can certainly produce an entertaining contest, and that truth is the same whether discussing Super Rugby’s best and worst sides.

The Waratahs will hope that coming off a bye week refreshed mentally and physically, added onto the fact that they are playing at home, that the cards are set to fall in their favour.

And both sides need their best combinations – Waratahs half-backs Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley, and the Rebels’ back row of Lopeti TImani, Sean McMahon and Amanaki Mafi – to deliver.

The last time the teams met: One of the crazier games of the 2017 season thus far saw the Waratahs complete a dramatic comeback to win 32-25 in Melbourne, despite the Rebels have led 25-6 at the break. Two tries from Reece Hodge, who finished with 20 points, and another from Tom English helped the Rebels build up that commanding lead. But scores from Ned Hanigan, Reece Robinson, Michael Wells and finally David Horwitz sparked wild scenes on the Waratahs bench at the final whistle.

Players to watch: One of the main criticisms regarding the Waratahs this season has been centred around a lack of physicality in the pack, which is where Will Skelton has a major role to play. The Wallaby second-row, set to return to Saracens next season, has the bulk and fitness to control the collision area and crucially give Phipps and Foley front-foot ball.

As for the Rebels, after weeks of carrying the team on his back Amanaki Mafi gets a bit of support with the return of both McMahon and Timani. Mafi has gained 565m so far this campaign, more than any other forward in the competition. The Japanese number eight has truly been outstanding and Rebels’ fans have been waiting all season to see this back row combination in action.

Team news: Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has made four changes to the starting line-up. Lock Will Skelton, number eight Michael Wells and scrum-half Nick Phipps all come off the bench into the starting side, while Taqele Naiyaravoro returns from injury, replacing Reece Robinson on the right wing. Hooker Damien Fitzpatrick replaces Hugh Roach on the bench.

The Melbourne Rebels have made nine changes. Lopeti Timani returns from his four-game suspension and Sean McMahon will make his first start of the season after the reigning Super Rugby player of the year returned to action off the bench last weekend against the Reds. The Wallabies pair will partner Japanese international Amanaki Mafi in the Rebels backrow while prop Tyrel Lomax and lock Culum Retallick have been recalled to the starting line-up after Dominic Day failed to overcome an injury. Injuries to Sefa Naivalu and Tom English has forced a reshuffle of the backline with Marika Koroibete the only back to retain his position. Jackson Garden-Bachop will partner Ben Meehan in the halves, stand-in captain Reece Hodge and Mitch Inman will combine in the centres, Jack Maddocks named on the wing and Ben Volavola will start at full-back.

Form: The Waratahs have won 10 of their previous 12 clashes between these teams, with their two losses coming by margins of no greater than four points. The Waratahs have lost their last four games on home turf, never before in their Super Rugby history have they lost more home fixtures in succession. The Rebels have won three of their last four games played on a Sunday, including a brace of wins last season against the Waratahs and Force. The Waratahs have scored six tries this season after opting to take a penalty tap, more than any other team in the competition while the Rebels are yet to score from via the same method.

Prediction: A fresher Waratahs outfit looks to have the edge, although they will hope to start the game slightly better than last time to avoid another dramatic second-half fightback… Waratahs by eight.

Previous results:

2017: Waratahs won 32-25 in Melbourne
2016: Rebels won 21-17 in Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 18-16 in Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 38-28 in Melbourne
2014: Waratahs won 41-19 in Melbourne
2014: Waratahs won 32-8 in Sydney
2013: Rebels won 22-24 in Melbourne
2013: Waratahs won 31-26 in Sydney

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Cam Clark, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Angus Taavao, 19 David McDuling, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Irae Simone

Rebels: 15 Ben Volavola, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Reece Hodge (c), 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Fereti Sa’aga, 18 Laurie Weeks, 19 Esei Haangana, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Jonah Placid

Date: Sunday, May 21
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-Off: 16:05 local (6:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Graham Cooper, Amy Perrett
TMO: George Ayoub