Preview: Waratahs v Western Force

Date published: February 13 2015

The Waratahs kick off their Super Rugby title defence at home to one of the few sides to have beaten them last year, the Force.

The Force were the surprise package of 2014 and were one of just four sides to defeat the eventual champions last season.

The Waratahs defeated the Force 43-21 in their opening game of last season (in Round Two), with Israel Folau scoring a hat – trick at Allianz Stadium, but came unstuck when they travelled to Perth in Round Nine (see below for more details).

The visitors have won twice before in Sydney but will nevertheless start as the overwhelming underdogs, especially considering the abence of the skipper and talisman Matt Hodgson, who made more tackles and also won more turnovers
than any other player last season.

They are also still wiating on the retun of star winger Nick Cummins as the face a Waratahs side that boasts the core the Wallabies squad.  
Waratahs (and Wallabies) coach Michael Cheika said his team will be looking to carry the momentum from last year and good preseason into their opening clash.

"The key thing for us is not to reinvent the wheel, we need to be very clear about the identity of the team and not think about the result," said Cheika.

"[We must] just think about playing the best rugby possible and enjoying ourselves – and making sure we're 100 percent committed.

"The squad have committed very well to everything we've asked them to do in the pre-season and they've prepared well. I'm lucky to have the whole squad to choose from for this weekend.

"For us to be successful this year we need to have two or three lads who weren't in the starting team last year to step up and put some pressure and claim a place in the side.

"We have to move forward, we have to keep driving forward and being competitive with each other and I think there are a few guys from the pre-season who have put their hand right up for selection this weekend."

The last time these team met: The Tahs were sent home empty handed as Nick Cummins scored a hat-trick at nib Stadium in Perth to help the Force to an impressive 28-16 win. Players to watch: Tahs skipper Michael Hooper played more minutes than any other player in Super Rugby last season ( 18 games, 1440 minutes) and was the only man to feature in every possible minute of the season (including Finals Series). Bernard Foley was the top points scorer in Super Rugby last season (252). Israel Folau made 52 offloads last season, 24 more th an any other player. The highlight should be the battle between Wallaby number eights Wycliff Palu and Ben McCalman.

Team news:

Form: The Waratahs went on a nine-match winning run at the end of last season and beat the Chiefs 38-36 in a pre-season friendly. The Force have won twice before in Sydney, but they've lost their opening fixture of the season every year since joining the competition in 2006.

Prediction: The Force have a habit of causing upsets when you least expect it but the Waratahs are the defending champions for good reason.

Previous results:
2014: Force won 28-16 in Perth
2014: Waratahs won 43-21 in Sydney
2013: Waratahs won 28-13 in Perth
2013: Waratahs won 23-19in Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 23-18 in Perth
2012: Force won 21-20 in Sydney

The teams:

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

Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Solomoni Rasolea, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Luke Burton.

Date: Sunday, February 15
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 16.05 local (05.05 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)

With thanks to Opta Sports for the statistical information provided