The Waratahs are off to a flying start in 2014, with their two opening games resulting in resounding bonus point victories. Now in year two of Coach Michael Cheika’s reign, it appears the edict of ball in hand rugby is beginning to take hold. Allowing the Waratahs to turn typically dour Australian derby’s into scintillating displays of flair and bravado.
Waiting for this new breed of Waratah tomorrow night is their first big test of the young season, last years’ beaten grand finalists, the Brumbies. The Waratahs are yet to play away from home this year, and historically have been starved for success in the nation’s capital, losing four of the six games played there since 2006.
The game itself should be an enthralling contest, the reigning Australian conference champions against the main rivals to their throne. Two teams with greatly differing tactics and philosophies, coming together to provide yet another chapter to one of Australian rugby’s great rivalries. If the Waratahs can escape the hostile environs of GIO stadium with a win then maybe, just maybe, Waratahs fans will again believe.
How the Waratahs can win
1. Forward Dominance: Whilst the Waratahs backs have garnered a lot of the media spotlight, it has been the forward pack which has laid the foundation for the teams early season dominance. The tight five in particular have provided great go forward and physicality at the breakdown, which has allowed quick and clean service to the sparkling back line. If the Waratahs win here, they go a long way to winning the game.
2. Convert line breaks into points: The Waratahs are currently making more line breaks per game (11.5) than any other team in the competition. Needless to say, if they can turn at least half of these opportunities into points, the Tah’s should be heading back up the Hume with the win.
3. Foley/Beale Combination: Bernard Foley burst onto the scene last year, leading the competition in both line break and try assists, a performance that saw him rewarded with a gold jersey. His partnership with seemingly reformed superstar Beale, whilst still in its infancy, has already displayed the capability to take over matches.
How the Brumbies can win
1. Control territory: The Brumbies, through Nic White and Jesse Mogg, posses a very string territorial kicking game. Controlling where the Waratahs take possession of the ball, as well as limiting their back three’s opportunities to counter attack will go a long way to winning the game.
2. Control the lineout: Last week saw a return to the lineout troubles of seasons past for the Waratahs, who struggled mightily on their own throw against an undersized Reds pack. Conversely, the Brumbies have a competition best success rate of 93% on their own throw and have been handy at taking the ball away, led by Ben Mowen with three lineout steals. With the lineout providing such an important attacking platform, dominance here may very well decide the outcome.
3. Make tackles stick: Though this may sound like one of rugby’s most basic fundamentals, the Brumbies have the worst tackle success rate (80%) of any team heading into round five. Without significant improvement, the Waratahs backline may well tear them to shreds. However if the Brumbies can improve in this area, dominate the contact and limit offloads, they could very well be sending the Waratahs home with their tails between their legs.