Preview: Waratahs v Rebels
The Waratahs will be eager to avoid back-to-back Super Rugby derby defeats when they face the Melbourne Rebels at Allianz Stadium on Friday.
Last week's 28-23 loss at the Brumbies brought to an end - with a bump we might add - the 'Tahs' winning start to 2014 under Michael Cheika.
We won't sugar-coat it, the defeat was a rude awakening call for the Sydney-based franchise that things are not as pleasant as they'd seemed. Credit the Brumbies though, who spotted a weak midfield link in Kurtley Beale and boy did they exploit it, hitting that channel with runners.
The Brumbies shot out of the blocks via their pre-planned tactic and led 25-9 at one point before consolations for Michael Hooper and Israel Folau. This was a clash that highlighted that if you dominate, or at least match the 'Tahs up front, it limits the attacking threat of Beale and Folau.
Cheika will want a response on home soil and he'll know a good result would put them atop the Australian Conference, provisionally at least. Changes have been made by the head coach in the aftermath of Canberra as Wycliff Palu drops to the bench along with Benn Robinson, as Dave Dennis moves to eight to allow Jacques Potgieter to go back to the flank. Lock Will Skelton and prop Sekope Kepu are the new starters for this match.
But what of their opposition? Well the Rebels were billed as being a side who could spring a few surprises this term due to the arrivals of Tamati Ellison and Luke Burgess coinciding with a return to fitness of Scott Higginbotham. How they've deteriorated since a fine start.
That opening victory over the Cheetahs promised much but then came a dismal defeat at the Force before last week's home loss to the Crusaders. Both those defeats showed a team struggling to penetrate their opposition defence, with the Cheetahs' leaky defence so far in 2014 ultimately lending the Rebels' five-try triumph to possibly being more down to a them, not us scenario. In Sydney they'll look to prove that theory wrong of course.
Achieving an upset victory must be done without full-back Jason Woodward (knee) and prop Laurie Weeks (concussion) though, who are replaced in the starting side by Angus Roberts and Paul Alo-Emile respectively. Lachlan Mitchell meanwhile will be the first Rebel to make 50 appearances, with head coach Tony McGahan naming two Japanese players on his bench as centre Male Sau joins compatriot Shota Horie in their matchday squad.
Prediction: The hosts to bounce back after that Brumbies loss. Waratahs by 15!
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Benn Robinson, 19 Wycliff Palu, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Rob Horne, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 Pat McCutcheon, 25 Jonno Lance.
Rebels: 15 Angus Roberts, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Cruze Ah-Nau, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Male Sa'u, 23 Tom Kingston.
Date: Friday, March 20
Kick-off: 19:40 local (08:40 GMT)
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)