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PREVIEW: Waratahs v Highlanders

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Friday, May 18, 2018    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Match details: Waratahs v Highlanders, 9.45pm Saturday 19 May, Allianz Stadium, Sydney.

Played: 22
Won: Highlanders 13, Waratahs 9
Last time: Highlanders 44, Waratahs 28 (27 May 2017)

FORM
The Waratahs laid on one of the most thrilling opening quarters of the season last week when they scorched to a 29-0 lead over the Crusaders before being edged 31-29 by the defending Super Rugby champions. The Highlanders were impressive in their 39-27 win over the Lions in Dunedin but showed some defensive frailties when the Lions crossed for two quick tries late in the first half. Overall, the Highlanders have won seven and lost three this competition while the Waratahs have a 5-1-4 record.

QUICK TAP: HIGHLANDERS BRACE FOR WARATAHS BACKLASH

FOLAU FACTOR
The Crusaders found out the hard way last week to not aimlessly kick the ball back to dynamic fullback Israel Folau. The Waratahs superstar leapt high to claim a high ball from Richie Mo’unga before linking with Kurtley Beale to create a try out of nowhere. In what should be a barnstorming head-to-head battle, Folau will square off with Ben Smith in a showdown between two of the best fullbacks in the world. The Highlanders will also need to beware of Folau’s prowess in the air as the Waratahs have used him effectively at kick off time throughout the season.

FAST FACT (Opta)

The Highlanders have won their last four games on the bounce against the Waratahs, they have previously never won consecutive games against the New South Wales club.

MAUGER’S WORD

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said the Waratahs would be looking to come back strong from their tough loss to the Crusaders last week. "That first-half performance against the Crusaders showed how dangerous they could be. We are expecting them to be at their best and we have plans in place to combat that. We are back to a full week and had a bit more time to get into some detail and get some growth around a few parts of our game. We've had short weeks with travel and that. We are in a good space."
THE SCOOP
The question for the Waratahs will be how badly did the loss to the Crusaders dent their spirit? Coach Daryl Gibson will have been working hard to instil some belief in his side after giving up a 29-0 lead to the Crusaders. It will be a huge test for their spirit and resolve but there is no doubting their talent. A big home crowd at Allianz Stadium could perhaps provide the boost for the Waratahs to finally break New Zealand’s 40 match winning run over Australian sides.

TEAMS
Highlanders:
Ben Smith (co-captain), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Tevita Nabura, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Ash Dixon (co-captain), Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma,
Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Kayne Hammington, Josh Ioane, Tevita Li.

Waratahs: Israel Folau, Cam Clark, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (capt), Will Miller, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson. Reserves: Tolu Latu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Shambeckler Vui, Ryan McCauley, Jed Holloway, Nick Phipps, Lalakai Foketi, Bryce Hegarty.