The two best (on paper) Australian Super Rugby teams will go head to head later this afternoon. While the Rebels will be looking to complete a clean sweep over the other Aussie teams, this will be the first time that the Waratahs play against a non-South African side.
The road so far:
So far this season the Rebels have been the team to beat, recording bonus point wins in all three of their games. They have also played an attractive brand of rugby, without sacrificing strategy for exciting play.
The jury is still out on the Waratahs. After a last gasp win over the Stormers in their first game they managed a respectable draw against the Sharks in Durban. Last week, however, all the travel they have done caught up to them and they were the victims of an opening blitz by the Jaguars in Argentina. After the first 20 minutes, however, the Waratahs looked like the better rugby team and eventually gave the scoreboard some respectability.
The Waratahs and their opponents have each scored at least 24 points in every game so far. Expect another high scoring encounter full of attacking rugby this afternoon.
Key match ups:
The scrum has been a huge weakness for the Waratahs so far, while the lineout also fell apart last week. The return from injury of Sekope Kepu and Rob Simmons will help with these issues, and the set piece battle will go a long way towards deciding the result.
The midfield battle will also be intriguing. The Rebels only real weakness is their five-eighth, and they can’t seem to work out who is the best option there. Will Genia’s world class form from half-back has made up for this deficiency so far, with help from the steadiness and boot of Reece Hodge, but the Waratahs will still target this area.
The Waratahs mid-field is a powerful weapon, with Jake Gordon and Bernard Foley both possessing strong running games. Kurtley Beale has been quiet so far this season, but if he manages to flick the switch he could win this game virtually single handed.
A sunny Sunday afternoon game is a prime candidate for running rugby, so expect the Waratahs to relish the conditions. The Rebels will have to defuse the NSW attack, and find a way to neutralise Israel Folau.
This will be a very high scoring game, with both backlines full of attacking weapons. The Rebels will need to get off to a strong start, as the Waratahs have shown that they will finish games strongly this year. In a close encounter the fit and mobile Waratahs forward pack, led by Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, could be the difference.
Based on the season so far, however, the Rebels have too many strings to their bow for the Waratahs to handle. If the line-out malfunctions, the boot of Reece Hodge will punish the home side. The Rebels should win the game, but it won’t be as easy as some are suggesting.