Preview: Waratahs v Stormers

Date published: April 10 2015

Losing their grip on the South African Conference, the Stormers will look to rebound against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.

Since starting their season with such promise by winning their first four matches in South Africa the Stormers have stuttered, suffering three losses and all to New Zealand sides.

How they fared against the Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes was always going to be a litmus test and despite some bright patches, notably in the second half in Wellington last weekend, the outcome of each of those fixtures has been disappointing.

Their tour doesn't get any easier and the decision to rest Duane Vermeulen while sensible in the long-term undoubtedly damages their chances of winning in Sydney – where the Waratahs have won 12 of their last 13 at home in Super Rugby and their average margin of victory in those 12 wins is 18.5 points.

Despite those setbacks, scrum-half Nic Groom believes that real success for the Stormers is around the corner.

‘‘There’s been a helluva lot of good stuff and we’re learning from our mistakes but we’re also putting some really good sides to the sword," said Groom.

"If you look at our game last Saturday, the Hurricanes attempted over 240 tackles, we were playing all the rugby, we were gaining yards, making linebreaks and working the space really well.

‘‘I believe we are on the brink of something, we just have to buckle down and be patient. We need to keep improving on our strengths, and it’s a matter of time before it comes together."

That eventual success may not come however this weekend, as the Waratahs return to action looking to chase down the Brumbies at the top of the Australian Conference.

Oddly enough that has proved to be the one fixture this season where the 'Tahs have looked at their best, when they triumphed 28-13 over their near rivals and everything seemed to click.

If it gets physical then the Waratahs can go toe-to-toe with anybody but where they will look to dominate this weekend is on attack through their backline.

Adam Ashley-Cooper's gradual return continues as he takes a bench spot but there are great threats in Taqele Naiyaravoro, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley and of course, Israel Folau.

If as often happens we see Michael Hooper dominate at the breakdown and the 'Tahs can get fast ball, they will create chances. It's a defensive test for the Stormers not long after they were bamboozled by Nehe Milner-Skudder and the Hurricanes – an opportunity to right some wrongs.

"For us, we will be ready for anything rather than putting [the Stormers] in a basket,” Hooper told Fox Sports.

“We know they will come at us hard early, it’s going to be a really interesting first 20 minutes to see what they do.”

The last time these teams met: Last year in Cape Town the Waratahs visited South Africa and snatched a 22-11 victory, a first win at Newlands since 2006. Penalties from Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale were crucial for 'Tahs as they condemned their hosts to another defeat.

Players to watch: The man that makes the Waratahs tick – scrum-half Nick Phipps sets the tempo and has been on the end of a couple of tries in recent weeks with his sharp support lines. Phipps emerged as the Wallabies' number one option in the nine jersey last season and will look to control play on Saturday. Will Skelton's size and power are essential in the battle of the forward packs and he won't shy away from any of the rough stuff.

Meanwhile, Juan de Jongh is back at outside centre and has the responsibility of captaining the Stormers. The outside centre was a late withdrawal last weekend but along with big experience brings plenty of power and still an initial burst of pace to his backline. Vincent Koch has had an excellent season so far at tighthead prop, so the onus is on Frans Malherbe, the Springbok, to match his form as he gets the start at tighthead up against Benn Robinson. Only Damian de Allende (29) has beaten more defenders than Israel Folau (26) so far this season. 

Team news: Waratahs boss Michael Cheika has named an unchanged starting XV. Ashley-Cooper and Tatafu Polota-Nau returning from injury via the bench.

Nizaam Carr returns to the number eight position in place of Vermeulen in a new-look loose trio, which sees vice-captain Schalk Burger pack down at number six and Michael Rhodes making his first start (at number seven) since picking up a knee injury against the Lions at the end of February. Siya Kolisi drops to the bench after two successive starts on tour and will be joined amongst the replacements this week by prop Vincent Koch, lock Jean Kleyn and utility back Huw Jones.

Form: The 'Tahs were stunned on the opening day of the season by the Force in Sydney but have rebounded since then, winning three of their last four matches amid two bye weeks. After winning their first four matches in South Africa against the Bulls, Blues, Lions and Sharks, the Stormers have lost their last three matches to the Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes – the last two defeats coming on the road. They have only managed to rack up one bonus point all season, in last week's defeat.

Predictions: Without the services of Vermeulen it's difficult to see the Stormers picking up the win in Sydney, although they will test the Waratahs defence with their powerful set of forwards. If the Waratahs can recapture their form from the last time they played at home against the Brumbies, they will triumph. Waratahs by 7.

Previous results:

2014: Waratahs won 22-11 in Cape Town
2013: Waratahs won 21-15 in Sydney
2012: Stormers won 19-13 in Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 25-6 in Cape Town

The teams:

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

Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.

Date: Saturday, April 11
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19.40 (09:40 GMT, 21:40 NZST, 11:40 SAST)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), James Leckie (New Zealand)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)