The Waratahs and Blues face off in a trans-Tasman clash at Brookvale Oval in Round 12 action in Sydney on Saturday.
The match will be played at the home of the Manly Warringah rugby league side, with the Waratahs’ home ground of Allianz Stadium unavailable. This, after having used the Sydney Cricket Ground for last month’s derby with the Reds.
Temporarily moving away from Allianz Park, where they were blanked 29-0 by the Lions in their last match, may be a good thing as the ground might cause old wounds to resurface.
With the Waratahs topping the Australian Conference and the Blues at a particularly low point in their history, Saturday’s encounter seems like the ideal opportunity for an Aussie side to record a first win over Kiwi opposition in 36 attempts – dating back to the Waratahs’ 45-25 triumph over the Chiefs in late May of 2016.
The Blues have lost seven of their nine games with last week’s defeat to the Jaguares representing a first ever loss to Argentine opposition for any New Zealand outfit. However, the return of experienced trio Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu and Augustine Pulu for this weekend will provide welcome relief to Tana Umaga’s men.
“We have some key players starting to slowly return over the next couple of weeks but it is welcome news to have these three players back, not just with their rugby ability but especially their experience,” said Umaga.
However, the Blues will need to watch their discipline as Bernard Foley has been the epitome of accuracy from the tee. Foley has scored 98 points this campaign, the most of any player yet to cross for a try and the second most overall behind the Sharks’ Robert du Preez. In fact, the Waratahs boast a goal-kicking success rate of 88 percent this campaign, the best of any team in the competition.
And Umaga has spoken of the need for a discipline and a return to the basics.
“It is back to the basics again for us. We need to win our set piece and the collision, hold our discipline, play positively with patience with some go-forward ball, communicate well and defend to plan,” he said.
“We are working hard. Each week we do some things well but one or two things let us down. We know this is a tough test with our young and inexperienced team, but we are ready to put a performance together.”
The last time the teams met: The Blues raced into a 26-0 lead last year, thanks to four penalties from Piers Francis and tries by Rieko Ioane and Scott Scrafton. Israel Folau and Tolu Latu led the resistance for the Waratahs but a second Ioane score put a dampener on the comeback, his brother Akira extending the lead further.
Despite late tries from Bernard Foley and Paddy Ryan, either side of a second for Folau, the game was long gone, as the Waratahs fell to a fourth defeat in five matches, even though they bizarrely finished with more tries on the night at five to four but lost 40-33 in the end.
Team news: Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has welcomed back Israel Folau in to his starting line-up.
Folau will play his first Super Rugby game since Round Seven, where he came off the field with a hamstring injury. The 29-year-old’s selection in the matchday 23, alongside Cam Clark, means Bryce Hegarty and Curtis Rona will make their impacts off the bench in Round 12.
Gibson has upped the pace of the forward pack, once again pairing Will Miller with captain Michael Hooper at openside and Michael Wells at number eight.
Kurtley Beale will be joined by Lalakai Foketi in the centres, while winger Clark is set to make his first start of the year in sky blue.
Meanwhile, the Blues welcome back the experience of captain Augustine Pulu, Patrick Tuipulotu and Jerome Kaino to their starting line-up.
The return of the trio to start the game is positive news for the Blues, with Pulu having played 30 minutes off the bench last week, while Tuipulotu missed the game with illness. Kaino returns after a hamstring strain that sidelined him for the past three games.
There are still defections this week which means Northland and Maori All Black prop Ross Wright gets his first start at loosehead prop after seven games off the bench.
The loose forward trio form an impressive combination with Kaino’s return alongside the in-form young guns Akira Ioane and Dalton Papalii.
Pulu teams with Stephen Perofeta to guide the team while Rieko Ioane and Orbyn Leger are again paired in the midfield. Replacement Tumua Manu, who has scored in each of his two games, moves to the right wing to allow for the debut of Caleb Clarke, who has recovered fully from appendicitis which ruled him out of the All Black Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games.
2017: Blues won 40-33 in Sydney
2016: Blues won 34-28 in Auckland
2015: Waratahs won 23-11 in Sydney
2014: Blues won 21-13 in Auckland
2013: Waratahs won 30-27 in Sydney
2011: Blues won 26-13 in Auckland
2011: Blues won 31-17 in Auckland
2010: Waratahs won 39-32 in Sydney
2009: Waratahs won 27-22 in Sydney
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 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 Curtis Rona, 23 Bryce Hegarty
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Tumua Manu, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ross Wright
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Ben Nee-Nee/Lyndon Dunshea, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Terrence Hepetema
Date: Saturday, May 5
Venue: Brookvale Oval
Kick-off: 21:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), William Houston (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)