Matthew Morrow previews the second of this weekend’s massive Super Rugby Semi-Final clashes. Who will come out on top in the all-Australian battle?
Waratahs v Brumbies
Saturday, July 26th.
10:30 am (GMT)
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
This all-Australian semi-final pits the dominant winners of the regular season against last year’s runners-up. The Waratahs set the regular season alight with ex-Leinster coach Michael Cheika designing the Tahs gameplan around its most potent threat – outside backs.
Cheika has invigorated Kurtley Beale at inside centre, something Wallabies coach Ewan McKenzie will have been keeping an eye on. At 10, Bernard Foley has finally been given a chance on the main stage, after years spent on the Sevens circuit. An incredibly smart player, Foley has earned his chance on the Wallabies because he has become the glue that holds the Waratahs together – he realises that he is not the most potent attacking threat on this team, and so helps create space and time for others that might do more damage with ball in hand – namely Beale and Israel Folau.
Up front the Tahs rely heavily on the leadership of Michael Hooper, who has blossomed into a world class openside. Wycliff Palu, Benn Robinson and Kane Douglas (soon to be of Leinster) provide international experience to the pack and in Will Skelton, the Tahs have a young player who is set to make a big impact on the game.
The Brumbies have a chance to make back-to-back finals and have already come through a nailbiter of a game the previous week when they avenged their defeat in last year’s final against the Chiefs. They have a core of exciting young Wallabies looking to push onto the national team in the form of Matt Toomua, Henry Speight and Christian Lealiifano. In particular, the battle between Toomua and Lealiifano against Beale and Foley could be an audition for the Australian 10 and 12 jerseys in the upcoming Rugby Championship.
Ben Alexander and Scott Fardy have the experience up front and their skipper, Ben Mowen, could be playing his last game for the Brumbies before his move to Montpellier.
Mowen’s path could be one soon to be followed by several other Wallabies, with European clubs and NRL franchises keeping a very close eye on the likes of Beale and Folau. There are fears of a post World Cup exodus in 2015 and the ARU and the franchises need to invest now in order to continue the current upward trend in Australian rugby. Whether the money to invest is there, remains to be seen.
This game should be the closer of the two semi-finals, with both sides of similar ilk and both in superb form. Like any knock-out match, the first twenty minutes will be crucial and the Tahs in particular will look to start fast and build an early lead.
If the Brumbies can stall the Tahs’ juggernaut, their experience from last year will come to the fore, but ultimately the Tahs have more match winners that could be decisive in a big game like this.
Waratahs by 4.
Matthew Morrow, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By JMK (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.