SUPER RUGBY Preview : Waratahs vs Highlanders

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Fresh off a bye week the Waratahs go right into the fire with a visit of defending champions the Highlanders this Friday in Sydney.

This is actually a battle between the last two champions, with the Waratahs having taken the title the previous year in 2014.

Each side have suffered a loss so far and have ground to make up on on the Brumbies and Chiefs respectively, although the Waratahs face a somewhat steeper task trying to reel in the Canberra-based franchise who have taken 13 points out of 15 so far.

The Highlanders lost their opener but they’ve never lost their groove, carrying on their title-winning form of 2015 through to the new season.

Squeaking past the Hurricanes was a reality check but there was nothing lucky about defeating the Lions. Give the Highlanders a sniff, especially Aaron and Ben Smith, and they’ll put you away as we saw with two quick tries after the break on the way to a comfortable win. Only the Chiefs (by virtue of playing the Kings) have made more clean breaks than the Highlanders so far.

Injuries however have hit them hard, with blockbuster wing Patrick Osborne joining Waisake Naholo on the sidelines along with key lineout forward Joe Wheeler and new signing Luke Whitelock. Testing out their squad depth on the road is never easy.

Also against them is the fact that the Waratahs have won three of the most recent four matches between these sides played in Australia.

That will give Daryl Gibson and his squad some optimism ahead of a blockbuster fixture in Sydney, as the Waratahs continue without the injured Bernard Foley at fly-half.

Kurtley Beale has dazzled during his stint filling in at number ten but with no disrespect to young David Horwitz, the Waratahs are always a greater threat when they can call upon the interlinking play of Foley and Beale in midfield.

Discipline let them down in their last outing thanks to those two first-half yellow cards for Dean Mumm and Will Skelton and their scrum struggled, areas that have to be tightened up on Friday.

The hosts have won seven of their last nine matches against New Zealand opponents in Super Rugby – though both their losses in that span have been against the Highlanders.

Previous results:

2015: Highlanders won 35-17 in Sydney
2015: Highlanders won 26-19 in Dunedin
2014: Waratahs won 44-16 in Sydney
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

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 David Dennis, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Paddy Ryan
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Reece Robinson

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Ryan Tongia, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (cc), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Jason Emery

Date: Friday, March 18
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant Referees: James Leckie, Graham Cooper
TMO: Ian Smith


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