Preview: Waratahs v Rebels
The Melbourne Rebels travel to Sydney for their Super Rugby encounter with the Waratahs on Friday, with both sides looking to avoid back-to-back defeats.
The Rebels hit the harbour city with a 1-1 record for the season so far to face a Waratahs team who have come off the bye and a narrow 25-17 loss to the Reds.
Michael Cheika's troops mounted a strong comeback in Brisbane to level the scores after trailing 17-3 and will have learned from the experience, as they now look forward to improving their 4-0 head to head against the Rebels this week.
The Rebels, who chalked up the earliest win of their three wins against the Force, stayed with the Brumbies before being comprehensively dismissed in the second half last week.
The Brumbies showed no mercy, running over the Rebels so brutally that by full time Damien Hill had used his entire bench. The most notable replacement was the injection of hooker Shota Horie; the first Japanese player to play in Super Rugby.
Largely keeping to themselves with local derbies, both sides will want some points on the board before facing their first inter-conference opponents.
The Waratahs will be looking reclaim some credibility.
The Rebels had some starch about them against the Force but quality opposition last week suggests that victory could well be a false dawn. Thus, the context of the game will make it more important than it seems on paper.
In the first of their two games last year the Waratahs won in a penalty ridden affair at AAMI Park. The return leg was equally unflattering for the Rebels. The Waratahs demonstrating some excellent running rugby before the Rebels fought back to go down by nine points.
The Waratahs have some exciting players who bring a mass of potential which will be hard for the Rebels to contain. They'll go at the Rebels from the first whistle through Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Both can hit the advantage line hard and also incise their way through the stoutest of defensive lines.
The Rebels will need to snuff out the Waratahs attack by curtailing the time and space of playmaker Bernard Foley. Committing fewer players to the breakdown will be crucial to the Rebels, so they can get an extra loose forward upon him quickly.
If there is a weakness in the Waratahs line-up, it is the inclusion of rugby league convert Israel Folau, whose explosive speed and agility can be compromised by his developing game smarts.
The Waratahs will likely tie up the Rebels in the forwards and choke supply to the Melbourne backs for they do have the talent to score out wide through the likes of opportunist winger Richard Kingi.
Key for them will be rendering Beale ineffective at fly-half, and dominating possession. The Rebels showed they can be physically taxed against the Brumbies, so watch for the Waratahs to build copious amounts of phase play to tire them.
Super head to head: Watch for a battle royale between the Rebels full-back James O'Connor and rugby league convert Israel Folau. Folau is the bigger and stronger player, agile and was noted for his leap beneath the highball in rugby league. O'Connor's speed and flair will be the perfect foil with quick hands and instinctive play. He'll test the newcomer. The result of these two very naturally talented backs will be some electric running, counter-attacking, and some dramatic high balls along the way.
Prediction: The Rebels continue to show glimpses of their true talent but they still lack the consistency and their set-piece remains patchy. The Waratahs all-around game hasn't completely emerged but depth of squad and technical superiority make them the more favoured side this week. Waratahs by five points!
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Tom Kingston, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Dave Dennis (c), 6 Michael Hooper, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Greg Peterson, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Ben Volavola.
Rebels: 15 James O'Connor (c), 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Jordy Reid, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Tom English.
Date: Friday, March 1
Kick-off: 19:20 (08:20 GMT)
Venue: Allianz Stadium
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)