The Waratahs will be looking to continue their impressive recent record against the Reds when the pair clash at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday.
They have won seven on the bounce against their Australian rivals, with the Queenslanders’ last triumph coming in 2013 when they overcame the ‘Tahs 14-12 at the ANZ Stadium.
Interestingly, that success was, at the time, their fifth consecutive victory over the Sydney-based outfit, but Daryl Gibson’s men have very much been in the ascendency since then.
On paper, and also form, that should continue this weekend with the Reds failing to reproduce the performances which saw them win three in a row. Although Brad Thorn’s outfit were competitive against the Stormers, rescuing a losing bonus-point following a late try, they were outclassed by the Brumbies two weeks later.
Considering their defensive resilience for the majority of the campaign – the Brisbane-based team going into this encounter with the best tackle stats of anyone (86 per cent) – they were surprisingly slack in Canberra.
Should they repeat that disappointing rearguard display then the ‘Tahs have the threats to benefit. While Israel Folau is still out, Taqele Naiyaravoro is in fine form after a dominant individual effort at the Sunwolves last week.
The Reds also have injury issues, with influential prop Taniela Tupou replaced by Ruan Smith, and shorn of that set-piece ascendency it is difficult to see where they will have the upper hand.
In the back-five of the pack, the visitors have plenty of exciting young talent but, against the experience of Rob Simmons and Michael Hooper, they will be significantly tested.
Thorn has built an impressive forward eight and, while the attack has improved slightly, the Queenslanders are yet to score more than 21 points.
In comparison, the Waratahs have passed that mark in every encounter, garnering over a half-century of points versus the Rebels and Sunwolves. It will therefore surely take another mammoth defensive effort if the away side are to get anything from the contest on Saturday.
The hosts may not be at their usual home ground, with the game being played at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but they are playing some excellent rugby at the moment.
The last time the teams met: The Waratahs won the battle of two struggling teams as Daryl Gibson’s men came out on top 29-26 at Suncorp Stadium – their seventh consecutive victory over the Reds. The hosts had started impressively and went into a 19-7 lead thanks to Karmichael Hunt, Lukhan Tui and Izaia Perese tries, but the away side hit back. Michael Hooper touched down to add to Nick Phipps’ earlier effort before the accurate kicking of Bernard Foley took over in the second period. Although Stephen Moore crossed the whitewash for Nick Stiles’ charges, the ‘Tahs’ pivot kicked four penalties to win the game for the visitors.
Team news: Nick Phipps returns from a calf injury that he sustained in pre-season and the scrum-half replaces Mitchell Short on the Waratahs bench.
It is their only alteration to the squad that beat the Sunwolves as Daryl Gibson keeps faith with the team following their dominant victory in Round Eight.
“Firstly being able to name an unchanged line-up is a reward to the guys for performing for us,” Gibson explained. “We’ve had six games, four of those have been on the road and this will only be our third game at home so it’s nice to be back home, particularly for such as prestigious game.
“Having the opportunity for the guys to play on the Sydney Cricket Ground for the first time since 1983 is very exciting, and it’s great to be a part of that.
“Secondly, to welcome Nick back. It’s been a long, hard road for him. He’s had six to eight weeks of nearly being there and he’s finally passed fit and he had a good trot last week for Sydney University.”
For the Reds, head coach Brad Thorn has been forced into a number of changes with forwards Taniela Tupou and Scott Higginbotham both ruled out.
They have been replaced by Ruan Smith and Lukhan Tui respectively, with Caleb Timu shifting from the blindside to number eight.
In a completely altered back-row, Thorn has decided to bring in Liam Wright for Adam Korczyk at openside, while the backline sees James Tuttle and injury-returnee Izaia Perese start.
“It’s disappointing to lose those guys to injury, but we’ve been working hard to develop depth within the squad so that we can cope with these setbacks when they occur,” Thorn said. “It’s a chance for other players to step up.
“And while we’ve lost some guys through injury, we’re also welcoming one back with Izaia (Perese) starting for the first time this year. He’s been cracking in at training, waiting for his chance to get back on the field. He’s a guy who offers a bit of strike in attack, so it’s good to have him back.”
2017: Waratahs won 29-26 in Brisbane
2016: Waratahs won 15-13 in Brisbane
2016: Waratahs won 30-10 in Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 31-05 in Sydney
2015: Waratahs won 23-05 in Brisbane
2014: Waratahs won 34-03 in Brisbane
2014: Waratahs won 32-05 in Sydney
2013: Reds won 14-12 in Sydney
2013: Reds won 25-17 in Brisbane
2012: Reds won 32-16 in Brisbane
Waratahs: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Cameron Clark
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Izaia Perese, 10 Jono Lance, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 JP Smith, 18 Sef Fa’agase, 19 Adam Korczyk, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Jordan Petaia
Date: Saturday, April 14
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)