Preview: Waratahs v Highlanders

04th Jul 2014, 08:16

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Form team: Waratahs

Form team: Waratahs

After six matches in a simmering penultimate regular-season round, the lid could come off the pot when the 'Tahs tackle the Highlanders.

After six vital matches in a simmering penultimate regular-season round, the lid could come off the pot when the Waratahs take on the Highlanders.

Both will know a good deal about their prospects after those games that take place on Friday and Saturday, with the 'Tahs possibly wrapping up the table if the Sharks fail to win in Bloemfontein while their visitors to Sydney will hope the Blues do them a massive favour against the Crusaders.

Few would argue that the Waratahs would not be deserved regular-season winners and with the Sharks travelling to the Cheetahs and Stormers in the closing two rounds, they are hot favourites to do just that. On a purely entertainment basis they have scored 21 more tries than the Durban side.

They have not lost to the Highlanders in Sydney in their two most recent clashes in the city - the visitors having last won there in 2007 - so the Highlanders have a job on their hands against a side who have been making all the right noises. Credit must go to Michael Cheika for this.

It is unsurprising the same line-up that dispatched the Brumbies has been rolled out - one enforced alteration seeing Dave Dennis replaced by Stephen Hoiles - as they have been maturing as a team as the competition has developed. Will Skelton is again on the bench.

No player has had a poor season which is a difficult feat to attain for a coach and all the more impressive seeing as Rob Horne, Kurtley Beale and Jacques Potgieter have had to bed in to new roles. All three have done so in style but face tough opposition this Sunday.

The Highlanders picked up that priceless win against the Chiefs last week that gives them the knowledge that one win from two during the final rounds would guarantee them play-off rugby. But such is their drive, the sight of two from two would see them win the conference.

As mentioned, a lot might rest on how the Crusaders fare against the Blues and if the Aucklanders can repeat their hugely impressive Perth performance in Christchurch.

But with all the permutations it would be foolish to overlook just what a prospect this game is on a Sunday afternoon, with such kick-off times usually leading to free-flowing rugby that leads to tries. With the likes of Israel Folau and Ben Smith on show, we'd say it's a certainty.

Form: The Waratahs are on a five-game winning run, averaging 38.6 points scored in those matches. Meanwhile, the Highlanders have claimed at least a point from all but one game in 2014 and bounced back from two defeats with a victory over the Chiefs last weekend.

Recent results:

2012: Highlanders won 18-17 in Dunedin
2011: Waratahs won 33-7 in Sydney
2010: Highlanders won 26-10 in Invercargill
2009: Waratahs won 34-16 in Sydney
2008: Waratahs won 15-12 in Dunedin
2007: Highlanders won 26-25 in Sydney

Prediction: Plenty of points with the hosts coming out on top. Waratahs by 10!

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (capt), 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Kane Dougles, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Mitch Chapman, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Jono Lance, 24 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 25 Cam Crawford (two to be omitted).

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Lee Allan, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.

Date: Sunday, July 6
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 16:05 local (07:05 BST, 06:05 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant Eeferees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)