Preview Waratahs v Brumbies
Last year's beaten finalists, the Brumbies, face an Everest as they venture to Sydney to take on Investec Super Rugby's outstanding side, the Waratahs on Saturday.
Records: Played 24, Waratahs 13, Brumbies 11. (This season, Brumbies 28-23 at Canberra, Waratahs 39-8 at Sydney)
Injuries: Fullback Israel Folau is back after a corked thigh while lock Jacques Potgieter returns with Will Skelton returning to the bench.
Key men: Israel Folau has been unstoppable for the Waratahs this year and will be a key man to break through the holes in the Brumbies' defences. His liaison with second five-eighths Kurtley Beale is crucial, and if allowed to combine they could cut some merry capers. Michael Hooper's leadership in the loose will also be crucial in freeing ball for the backline while No.8 Wycliff Palu could be lethal with ball in hand.
Henry Speight showed what an attacking asset he can be in the play-off game with the Chiefs last week but it is his defence the Waratahs will target via Rob Horne this time around. Matt Toomua will face plenty of pressure from the Waratahs loose men at first five-eighths while up front coach Laurie Fisher has demanded a bit effort from prop Scott Sio, and that could be crucial given the absence of hooker Stephen Moore.
Facts to note: the Waratahs have achieved most metres gained, most carries, most clean breaks, most offloads and most passes completed. Their average winning margin is 30-17.
The Brumbies win 96 percent of their rucks, the best in the competition.
Prospects: It's a classic case of whether a week's break is likely to upset the formula that has worked so well for the Waratahs all year. Given the byes that occur during the season it is unlikely to be such a big issue. The problem the Brumbies face if they are to repeat their visit to the final from last year, is cracking the home team's defences. In that regard the Waratahs look better equipped and while the Brumbies have confidence in the quality of their set piece they look likely to struggle against the highly-competent Waratahs unit. We pick the Waratahs by eight.
Waratahs: 1.Benn Robinson, 2.Tatafu Polota Nau, 3.Sekope Kepu, 4.Jacques Potgieter, 5.Kane Douglas, 6.Stephen Hoiles, 7.Michael Hooper (captain), 8.Wycliff Palu, 9.Nick Phipps, 10.Bernard Foley, 11.Rob Horne, 12.Kurtley Beale, 13.Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14.Alofa Alofa, 15.Israel Folau.
Reserves: 16.Tolu Latu, 17.Paddy Ryan, 18.Jeremy Tilse, 19.Will Skelton, 20.Mitchell Chapman, 21.Pat McCutcheon, 22.Brendan McKibbin, 23.Taqele Naiyaravoro, 24.Matt Carraro, 25.Cam Crawford.
Brumbies: 1.Scott Sio, 2.Josh Mann-Rea, 3.Ben Alexander, 4.Sam Carter, 5.Leon Power, 6.Scott Fardy, 7.Jarrad Butler, 8.Ben Mowen (captain), 9.Nic White, 10.Matt Toomua, 11.Clyde Rathbone, 12.Christian Lealiifano, 13.Tevita Kuridrani, 14.Henry Speight, 15.Jesse Mogg.
Reserves: 16.Ruaidhri Murphy, 17.Ruan Smith, 18.JP Smith, 19.Fotu Auelua, 20.Tom McVerry, 21.Michael Dowsett, 22.Joe Tomane, 23.Pat McCabe.
Referee: Jaco Peyper