Preview: Highlanders v Waratahs
Saturday, March 14, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Played: 18, 1996-2014 (DNP 2013)
Highlanders wins: 5
Waratahs wins: 13
Highlanders points: 341
Waratahs points: 469
Last match: Waratahs 44 Highlanders 16, 06.07.14 in Sydney
Squad update: Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has made three changes to his team after their impressive backs to the wall triumph against the Chiefs.
All alterations are to the pack, with Elliot Dixon moving to six to make way for Tasman flanker Shane Christie.
Tom Franklin and Ross Geldenhuys are the other changes to the side, with the backline and reserves remaining unchanged from last week.
Meanwhile the Waratahs head coach Michael Cheika has named an unchanged starting side from the previous round that saw NSW beat the Queensland Reds by 18 points in Brisbane.
Form: The Highlanders will be happy with where they are at this stage of the season, recovering after their initial six point loss to the Crusaders.
A solid victory against the Reds was followed with a 20-17 triumph in Hamilton against the Chiefs, a remarkable game which saw the tourists prevail despite trailing most of the statistics.
The Waratahs, who were shocked by the Force, losing 13-25 in Sydney during the opening round, have regained their equilibrium with victories against the Rebels and Reds.
Their 23-5 success against Queensland in Brisbane was the first match where the champions began to look like the 2014 vintage, with that forward abrasiveness and willingness of the backs to run on ample display.
Key players: New father Ben Smith will captain the side alongside number eight Nasi Manu, and the battle between the All Blacks back and Wallaby custodian Israel Folau will be worth the price of admission alone.
Waisake Naholo is turning out to be an impressive offensive weapon for the Highlanders while Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith controlled proceedings against the Chiefs despite a significant deficit in possession and territory.
The Highlanders forwards did an impressive number on a fired up Chiefs pack, and with Christie back in the loose forwards, expect even bigger things from the home team’s men up front in round five.
The Waratahs have been slowly warming to their job, with Bernard Foley running the cutter with aplomb against the Queenslanders, while Kurtley Beale at second five-eighth is beginning to run those delicious angles we know so well.
Up front the New South Wales pack has quietly gone about their business even if Jacques Potgieter and Michael Hooper are still to rediscover their sparkling form from 2014.
Will Skelton is a danger in the tight due to his willingness to run with the ball, but the Waratahs most lethal threat will come from the back, with Folau once against one of Super Rugby’s most lethal individuals.
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