Preview: Waratahs v Blues

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Saturday, March 28, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 28 March at 9.40pm
Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Played: 19, 1996-2014 (DNP 2012)
Waratahs wins: 8
Blues wins: 11

Waratahs points: 482
Blues points: 503

Last match: Blues 21 Waratahs 13, 25.04.14 in Auckland

Squad update: Waratahs head coach Michael Cheika has kept the faith, rewarding the 15 men who were so convincing against the Brumbies by letting them keep their spots.

One change was made late in the week, with Tatafu Polota-Nau failing to recover in time from concussion.

Following more stringent protocols that have been recently put in place by the Australian Rugby Union, Tolu Latu will remain the starting hooker while Hugh Roach will be wearing the number 16 jersey.

For the Blues, former Highlanders and Crusaders flyhalf Dan Bowden will make his debut for the side, replacing Ihaia West at first five-eighth.

Hayden Triggs gets the starting job with All Black Patrick Tuipuloto at lock, with Josh Bekhuis spelled with injury, while Brendon O’Connor gets the start at No 7 with Luke Braid on the bench.

George Moala will get his first start at centre, with former All Black Sevens player Pita Ahki and lock Culum Retallick on the bench. All Black Charles Piutau will move fullback after playing the last two matches at centre.

Form: The Waratahs have had a mixed start to their title defence despite their benchmark performance against the Brumbies last week.

They were ambushed in the opening week by the Force, while the Highlanders were full value for their 26-19 triumph over the 2014 champions.

While the three tries to one win over their ACT based rivals was notable, Cheika will want to see a repeat performance and see his team ramp up their season as we head towards the halfway mark.

The Blues haven’t been able to register a W yet this campaign but their systems are hardly a wreck, with the Auckland based side boasting some of the better attacking numbers of any team.

Yet they are struggling to mount points, with just seven tries and 91 points coming over the Blues opening five matches.

Key players: For the first time this season the Waratahs forwards we came to know so well last year revealed themselves, with plenty of aggression on display after they were given a reality check by the Highlanders.

Jacques Potgieter, Wycliff Palu and Will Skelton were towers against the Brumbies, and will look for more of the same here.

In the backline, Israel Folau by statistics is currently Investec Super Rugby’s marquee attacking player, and will be joined by fellow dynamo Kurtley Beale, while Bernard Foley’s game management will once again by a factor.

On paper the Blues have the team to defeat the Waratahs, and with three wins from their last four heads-to-heads, there is no reason why the tourists cannot be confident despite the magnitude of the challenge.

Tony Woodcock and Charlie Faumuina will provide a litmus test for the NSW scrum, while Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua are made for contests like this.

The belligerence of the Blues in the tight exchanges will need to be highly visible against a Waratahs pack that likes to move the ball around.

Jimmy Cowan and Bowden will also want to ignite their combination quickly if they are to tap into the rich resources behind them.

Francis Saili, Moala, Piutau and Frank Halai offer a more direct style of play that their opposites, but they will need to be equally switched on without the ball as the Waratahs backs will test them with plenty of angles and turns.