Preview: Waratahs v Rebels

Date published: April 23 2015

Second tackles third in the Australian conference this Saturday as the Waratahs look to back up their win in Melbourne with a home victory.

The Super Rugby champions are currently very much back in the frame to finish top of the pile in their country due to the Brumbies' recent blip, which has seen the franchise from Canberra fall to back-to-back losses. It's timely therefore that the duo meet in the capital next Friday.

But don't discount the Rebels, who are chasing hard for top spot in Australia. If they can win in Sydney – they have already beaten the other three franchises in the country so far in 2015 – and the Brumbies lose to the Highlanders, they could move very much in the mix.

Fixtures between these two sides rarely disappoint in terms of points as only once out of their nine meetings has less than 40 been scored. So expect a decent derby contest as the second half of the campaign starts to separate the hopefuls from the also rans. Saturday will help begin that process as the Rebels look to win three successive games for the first time and with it they would complete their clean sweep of Australia.

The last time these teams met: It was in Round Two after the Rebels had beaten the Crusaders and the Force had stunned the Waratahs. The Rebels were looking good when Scott Higginbotham scored but then back came the 'Tahs, with Stephen Hoiles' crossing and a further two penalties putting them 16-7 up. Despite Lopeti Timani's try on the half-time hooter, the 'Tahs recovered in the second stanza thanks to a double from Taqele Naiyaravoro and one from Kurtley Beale in response to Luke Burgess and Sefanaia Naivalu's scores as it finished 38-28.

Players to watch: Wallaby eyes will once again be on Adam Ashley-Cooper as he continues his return from injury while Peter Betham – picked ahead of Taqele Naiyaravoro – will be eager to back up last week's brace after his future switch to Leicester was announced.

For the Rebels the performances of Nic Stirzaker won't have gone unnoticed by Australia head coach Michael Cheika, particularly with several scrum-halves moving on after the World Cup. Pat Leafa is another player making all the right noises during the early season.

Team news: Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis moves to the number eight role as Wycliff Palu will start on the bench. Mitch Chapman is at lock while Tatafu Polota-Nau returns to the starting line-up at hooker. Peter Betham keeps his spot on the right wing ahead of Taqele Naiyaravoro while experienced Wallaby centre Adam Ashley-Cooper makes his second start since returning from injury.

Meanwhile, Dom Shipperley returns to the visitors' starting line-up on the wing in place of Tom English in an otherwise unchanged backline. Up front, Cadeyrn Neville replaces Luke Jones after the latter developed concussion symptoms following the win in Canberra against the Brumbies.

Form: The Waratahs bounced back from their home defeat to the Stormers with a 29-24 win in Wellington last Saturday, which ended the Hurricanes' streak. That means they have won five out of their nine fixtures and sit just three points off the Brumbies with a game in hand.

The Rebels enter on the back of defeating the aforementioned Brumbies in Canberra, a game they managed to win 13-8 thanks to a strong first-half showing. That result was all the more positive as it followed up their victory against the Reds. Can they make it three on the bounce?

Prediction: No disrespect to the Rebels but the Brumbies were poor last week and we can't see the Waratahs making the same mistakes. Factor in the bench options of Wycliff Palu and Taqele Naiyaravoro and the Melbourne outfit are set for a tough day. Waratahs by 10 points!

Previous results:

2015: Waratahs won 38-28 in Melbourne
2014: Waratahs won 41-19 in Melbourne
2014: Waratahs won 32-8 in Sydney
2013: Rebels won 24-22 in Melbourne
2013: Waratahs won 31-26 in Sydney

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Mitch Chapman, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Wycliff Palu, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Matt Carraro, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Jordy Reid, 23 Bryce Hegarty.

Date: Saturday, April 25
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:55 local (09:55 GMT, 21:55 NZST, 11:55 SAST)
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant Referees: James Leckie (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)