The Reds will have to shut down Kurtley Beale if they are to have any chance of beating the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.
Beale will start at 10 after first-choice flyhalf Bernard Foley suffered a shoulder injury during the Tahs’ last pre-season hitout against the Highlanders, which has ruled him out of action for a month.
While Foley’s accurate goal-kicking will be missed, Beale poses a far greater threat with ball in hand and could spark a potent Waratahs backline that includes Israel Folau at fullback and former All Black Zac Guildford on the left wing.
The Reds conceded the second most tries in Super Rugby last year – 53 in 16 matches – and leaked another nine across two pre-season defeats to the Crusaders (31-13) and Brumbies (31-18).
The Waratahs played three pre-season matches, beating the Brumbies 21-17 before losing to the Chiefs (17-12) and the Highlanders (40-35). The five tries they scored in that last fixture against the Super Rugby champions shows what the Reds’ defence will be up against on Saturday.
New Tahs coach Daryl Gibson has named an experienced lineup for this match. While Guildford and prop Angus Taavao will be making their debuts for the Sydney-based side, the former has 11 Test and 79 Super Rugby caps (for the Hurricanes and Crusaders) and the latter 37 Super Rugby caps (for the Blues). Only 18-year-old David Horwitz, starting at inside centre, and ex-rugby league flyer Reece Robinson, who’s on the bench, have not yet played at this level.
The Reds have two debutants in their starting XV, inside centre Henry Taefu and left wing Eto Nabuli, and two on the bench, Japan fullback Ayumu Goromaru and lock Ben Matwijow.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Reds 13, Waratahs 11, Draw 1
In Sydney: Reds 6, Waratahs 6
STATS AND FACTS
– The Waratahs have won each of their last four matches against the Reds spanning the last two seasons, and they’ve restricted them to five points or less in each of those games.
– The Waratahs have won 10 of their last 12 matches against fellow Australian teams in Super Rugby and not since round five in 2014 have they been beaten by an Australian team that wasn’t the Force.
– None of the Reds’ last 11 games against fellow Australian opposition have seen a losing bonus point secured by either side (won four, lost seven).
– The Reds had the best lineout success rate in the 2015 edition of this competition (91%) winning more lineouts per game than anyone else (14.1).
– The Waratahs’ Israel Folau made the most carries (231), metres (1,677) and offloads (38) in Super Rugby last season.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 David Dennis, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Angus Taavao, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Jeremy Tilse, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Reece Robinson.
Reds – 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Henry Taefu, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Curtis Browning, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Michael Gunn, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ayumu Goromaru.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)