NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has made two changes to the starting line-up for the team’s must-win home Semi-Final against interstate rivals the Brumbies this Saturday night (7.30pm) at Allianz Stadium.After resting him in the final round of the regular competition, the coach has restored Israel Folau to fullback. Cleared of a corked thigh, Izzy’s eager to make an impact saying he is “feeling fresh and ready to go”.
Up front in the engine room, the other change sees hard-hitter and crowd favourite Jacques Potgieter start in the number four jersey, with big Will Skelton being backed to make his impact off the bench. But Cheika couldn’t stress the importance of his benchmen, saying, “replacement players are match winners”.
The Waratahs front row remains the same, with Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota Nau and Sekope Kepu at the coal face for this, the 25th instalment of the Waratahs v Brumbies rivalry.South African hit man Potgeiter will partner the European-bound Kane Douglas at lock, their combination a key element in the solidarity and power of the Tahs’ scrum.
The Waratahs loose forwards remain untouched, with captain Michael Hooper at openside, Stephen Hoiles on the blindside and Wycliff Palu at No. 8. When he takes the field, Palu will join the legendary David Lyons as NSW’s equal most capped Super Rugby No. 8 of all time (89 caps at the back of the scrum, with a further 15 as flanker).
As the halves combination, Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley remain the crux of the Waratahs’ backline. Backing the two NSW playmakers are the talented Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper in the centres.
Running the wings are Rob Horne and Alofa Alofa, while Super Rugby’s leading tryscorer Folau is back at fullback.
The interchange for Saturday’s clash against a hungry Brumbies side will be selected from Tolu Latu, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Will Skelton, Mitchell Chapman, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbin, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Matt Carraro and Cam Crawford. Two of the 10 players named on the extended bench will be omitted from replacements before kick-off.
NSW and ACT have met 24 times, with the Tahs leading the head to head with 13 wins and 11 losses. The teams have already twice this season, with the home side taking the spoils on both occasions. The last match up took place just one month ago, when the Tahs scored an emphatic 39-8 win at ANZ Stadium.
With the Sydney clash usually held at ANZ Stadium, it’s been six years since the teams ran out at Allianz Stadium. Since Super Rugby started in 1996, nine contests between the two sides have been held at the Sydney Football Stadium, now known as Allianz Stadium, the last one being six years ago in 2008. The Waratahs have won all but one of those nine matches.
Tickets are great value from just $28 for adults and $77 for a family pass. With good weather forecast and over 33,500 tickets already snapped up, fans are urged to buy their ticketsquickly to ensure the best available seat and to get down early on gameday. The newon-site Sydney Live plaza will be showing the Crusaders v Sharks semi live and in full on the big screen, kick off at 5.30pm AEST. A free skills and drills clinic for kids is also available from 5.30pm. Tickets and full matchday information are available online at www.waratahs.com.au/finals.
The NSW Waratahs team to take on the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, July 26 at 7.40pm is: 1. Benn Robinson (Eastwood), 2.Tatafu Polota Nau (Parramatta), 3. Sekope Kepu (Randwick), 4. Jacques Potgieter (Eastern Suburbs), 5. Kane Douglas (Southern Districts), 6. Stephen Hoiles (Randwick), 7. Michael Hooper (Manly, captain), 8. Wycliff Palu (Manly), 9. Nick Phipps (Sydney University), 10. Bernard Foley (Sydney University), 11. Rob Horne (Southern Districts), 12. Kurtley Beale (Randwick),13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Northern Suburbs), 14. Alofa Alofa (West Harbour), 15. Israel Folau (Sydney University).
Replacements (two to be omitted): 16. Tolu Latu (Sydney University), 17. Paddy Ryan (Sydney University), 18. Jeremy Tilse (Sydney University), 19. Will Skelton (Sydney University), 20. Mitchell Chapman (Eastern Suburbs), 21. Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University), 22. Brendan McKibbin (Eastern Suburbs), 23. Taqele Naiyaravoro (Parramatta), 24. Matt Carraro (Randwick), 25. Cam Crawford (Northern Suburbs).