Preview: Reds v Waratahs

Date published: July 11 2014

With the Australian Conference title and top spot wrapped up in Super Rugby, the Waratahs travel to Suncorp Stadium to play the Reds.

With the Australian Conference title and top spot wrapped up in Super Rugby, the Waratahs travel to Suncorp to play the Reds.

It's been some year for the men from Sydney, whose accolade of finishing first is hugely deserved. The Sharks might be clinical but the Waratahs are actually a joy to watch, scoring 51 tries this season which is more than any other side.

No team in Super Rugby has the same sense of completeness about them, because from 1-15 and in all areas of the game throughout 2014 the 'Tahs have hit the nail on the head.

Take second row Jacques Potgieter as a prime example. The signing from the Bulls has found his feet in Australia and doesn't just use his aggression and do well in the set-piece, but genuinely roams free around the field sniffing for opportunities.

Big name players have fronted up. The scrum has been solid, with Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu sticking their hands up in recent weeks. Wycliff Palu is playing his best rugby for years, while current Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper, still only 22, is one of a kind.

But for all of the talent out in the backs – and there's plenty of it with Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper – the key to the Waratahs season has been Bernard Foley.

Foley has huge experience in Sevens, captaining the Australia side during the 2010-2011 IRB World Series, and that speed of thought and willingness to attack the defensive line constantly shines through.

He has formed a brilliant tandem with Beale, stretching defences all season long before finding the killer pass or making a dart himself using his underrated turn of pace. His goal-kicking, especially in recent weeks playing for the Wallabies against France and last week against the Highlanders, has been sublime.

Foley's reputation has probably been enhanced by two factors – the service he gets from Nick Phipps and the devastating effect Folau has had on the sport from full-back. Early on this year Folau was unplayable, before working his way back from a mini dip over the last two months.

He will be absent in Brisbane, rested as a precaution before bigger games to come over the next few weeks having already scored 12 tries.

But the Waratahs have more than enough in the tank to manage without him, especially against a Reds side who are decimated by injury and limping towards the finish line.

This list of absentees is horrendous. Unavailable are Quade Cooper (shoulder/hip), Anthony Fainga'a (calf), Chris Feauai-Sautia (shoulder), Nick Frisby (jaw), Will Genia (ankle), Eddie Quirk (knee), Dom Shipperley (ankle) and Aidan Toua (pectoral/hamstring) all unavailable – nearly an entire first choice backline.

Rushing youngsters like Jamie-Jerry Taulagi and Curtis Browning into action will serve them well in the future, but the Reds have missed the experience of their established crop.

At times though the forced changes have worked wonders, taking Samu Kerevi as a prime example.

Last week in Perth the 20-year-old stole the show, arguably producing the display of the round as he tore the Force to shreds. Do it again against the Waratahs and his prospects will soar.

Too often this season the Reds pack were unable to live with their opponents, contained at the set-piece and outmuscled at the breakdown.

The return of Liam Gill onto the bench before he jets off to play in the Commonwealth Games is a boost, but once again the Reds' tight five, which contains five Wallabies, has to step up and be counted. James Horwill has helpfully rediscovered his groove in recent weeks.

It's tough though to expect much from the Reds against a near full-strength Waratahs outfit, who are inspired to succeed in the absence of regular skipper Dave Dennis.

Michael Cheika simply won't allow for any complacency at Suncorp, with three games left for the Waratahs if they are to win the title.

Form: Coming into this contest on six wins in a row, nobody can match the Waratahs on current form. They haven't lost a game now since April, racking up an absurd points difference of +178. As for the Reds, they have only won five out of 15 matches this season, but two of those have come in their last three games. Before that they lost six in a row.

Previous Results:
2014: Waratahs won 32-5 in Sydney
2013: Reds won 14-12 in Sydney
2013: Reds won 25-17 in Brisbane
2012: Reds won 32-16 in Brisbane
2012: Reds won 25-21 in Sydney

Prediction: That five-game winning run for the Reds over the Waratahs between 2011-2013 feels like a long time ago now. Their injuries are a huge hinderance, but even with everyone fit it would be tough to stop this Waratahs vintage, Folau or no Folau. Waratahs by ten.

The teams:

Reds:15 Mike Harris, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Scott Gale, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements:16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Albert Anae, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Sam Johnson, 22 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 23 Chris Kuridrani.

Waratahs: 15 Cam Crawford, 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 (c), 6 Stephen Hoiles , 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Michael Ala'alatoa, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Pat McCutcheon , 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Jono Lance, 24 Taqele Naiyaravoro.

Date: Saturday, July 12
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
Kick-off: 19.40 local (09.40 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser