Planet Rugby

Preview: Waratahs v Blues

23rd March 2013 21:17

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Under pressure: The Tahs host the Blues

The Waratahs campaign does not get any easier this weekend as they host a Blues side in excellent form at the Allianz Stadium.

For the Waratahs the stakes cannot be any higher. Another loss at home will surely turn up the heat on a team that is sitting 13th on the combined table and last in the Australian conference.

Whilst they have shown patches of brilliance, and an attacking intent, their unforced errors have let them down, and at the end of night, a loss is a loss. But form isn't their only concern, as they have lost playmaker Berrick Barnes for six weeks to a thumb injury after only just welcoming him back last weekend after a long lay-off, forcing coach Cheika to look to Rob Horne to take his place.

The Waratahs will also be without Polota-Nau and Wycliff Palu as they are both sidelined for another week, but they will be welcoming back Drew Mitchell, who was controversially left out of last weekend's playing squad, because of poor form, but with desperation, comes desperate measures.

Mitchell will take Turner's place on the wing, with Israel Foulau retaining his full-back position, and Bernard Foley and McKibbin making up the centre pairing.

Dissecting the Tahs isn't too complex, the team has the ability on paper, but the burden of anxiety that has been built up chronically over the past few seasons has let the team down, according to Michael Cheika.

The Tahs however will have something that may build their self confidence, knowing that whilst they don't have the best overall record against the Blues, they can take solace in the fact that the Aucklanders have not won in Sydney since 2003.

The Blues camp is boosted with the return of All Black Anthony Buric, who has not played for over 12 months because of a neck injury and will be injected off the bench. Keven Mealamu however has been left out as a precaution by John Kirwan.

The Blues had an explosive start under their new management, having defeated the Hurricanes 34-20 and Crusaders 24-15, but lost to the Bulls a fortnight ago.

Whether the week's bye has done the Blues any favours, we will have to wait and see. The Blues coach has admitted that the team suffered with poor execution against the Bulls, and an inability to change from plan A to plan B.

"We technically didn't get it right against the Bulls and we didn't have the ability to adjust on the football field. We need to be able to do that this week, because the Waratahs will throw different stuff at us," Kirwan told the Sydney Daily Telegraph.

There has been talk of the match being front-dominated, or as Kirwan puts it, like "WWF wrestling", which will put the Tahs in an interesting predicament of being sucked in with the forward two rows, or playing the backs with Foulau taking pot-shots at breaking the line.

Against the Cheetahs the Tahs had a strong scrum, and even won a couple of scrums agains the feed. The Blues are brilliant at counter-attack, so the Waratahs will be tested in defence as well, but the feeling is that if the Tahs can get their passes to gel, their ability and gameplan could get them over the line.

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Pat McCutcheon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (capt), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Benn Robinson. Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Mitchell Chapman, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Matt Lucas, 21 Ben Volavola, 22 Tom Kingston.

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (capt), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.

Date: Sunday March 24
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 16.05 (18.05 NZT, 05:05 GMT)
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Will Houston (Australia)
Television match official: Peter Marshall (Australia)

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