Bold decision if Tahs opt to play wide against Highlanders
Ball control ... Dean Mumm. Photo: Getty Images
The last time the Waratahs played against the Highlanders in New Zealand they were schooled in wet-weather rugby. The wind was howling, the rain was coming in sideways and, to be frank, the Waratahs didn't know how to play the conditions.
So what is the common denominator tomorrow? Rain, hail or shine, both teams will be dry under the roof of the new Forsyth Barr Stadium. There will be no excuses for poor ball handling this weekend.
If history is any indication, the Waratahs should have the better of the Highlanders. The trouble is you can't rely on history; you live for the now. The Tahs learnt that against the Reds. The Bob Templeton Cup was virtually inscribed with ''Waratahs 2012''. Then, swoosh, it was gone.
Coming off the back of a bonus-point win against the Rebels, the Waratahs are full of confidence. What they must not do is get too far ahead of themselves.
Put last week's win in perspective. The Rebels rarely mounted an attacking raid that stretched the Tahs. The Highlanders, though, have attacking ability all over the park and they are not afraid to let the ball enjoy some air. The result is that it gets across the white line.
The Waratahs pack has to nullify what is becoming a lethal scrum.
The Highlanders have picked up Hurricanes discard Andrew Hore. His leadership is invaluable. With support from captain Jamie Mackintosh and Chris King, the front three are well capable of providing whatever the backs require.
The back row is mobile and strong. Adam Thomson spends more time on the wing than his own No. 11 and No. 14, and plays like a wide receiver.
The Highlanders' usual defensive style is more passive. Using the sidelines as their friends allows the attacking players easier metres on the width. The problem with going wide is you have to be committed to winning the ball because it's a long route for the No. 7 to get there.
Where the Tahs were good last week was with the big men taking it directly, and through the middle. Firstly, this gives you metres over the advantage line and, secondly, gives you options to play off, such as short or wide off the next play. The Waratahs have exposed opposition defences in the past two weeks through the running and decision-making on the run of Sarel Pretorius.
The energy Pretorius brings to the back of the ruck makes it difficult for the opposition to predict the next play, which provides a third option: the halfback running himself.
This week Berrick Barnes returns at the expense of Tom Carter, who drops to the bench. One reading of this is that the Tahs will play a wider game. Carter is the bash-and-barge direct runner, as we saw when he scored against the Rebels, while Barnes's passing game benefits others.
The Waratahs go into the game with the potential of having three ball players. My concern is the balance. With Carter on the sidelines they lose a foot soldier and gain a general. The problem is that sometimes generals have to turn up on the front line and do the foot soldiers' work, and you don't want them busted. They are better at directing than bashing.
If they need a direct play, Rob Horne is the man left standing for this role. It makes for easy picking when you know who the runner is going to be. If that's the case, give him the ball early with a bit of time to work the opposition rather than them positioning you in defence.
This match is the Tahs' toughest challenge so far. Go with the KISS game plan: keep it simple, stupid.