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Bold decision if Tahs opt to play wide against Highlanders


Matt Burke


Ball control ... Dean Mumm.

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.

7 comments so far

  • Agree Matt that this game is going to be the Tahs toughest challenge thus far. The Highlanders are all TEAM, a bunch of search and destroy merchants. They love the physical and the expectation of opposition that they haven't got any real 'superstars' to worry about.
    Having said that I believe the Tahs are now playing good rugby with a forward pack looking and desiring to dominate. The stand-outs being a fit Palu and a partner in Dennis.
    Should be an enthralling contest - let's hope.

    inner west sydney
    Date and time
    March 09, 2012, 10:29AM
    • So the Waratahs are full of confidence because they got a bonus point win against the team that last year came stone motherless last.
      Just simple logic says that they should be very wary because this team just put the sword to the Crusaders, last week, who are notoriously slow starters anyway.
      Although you didn't mention it it wouldn't be the first time that the Tahs were crowned champions in March

      Date and time
      March 09, 2012, 1:23PM
      • Just watched the game and I have to say that if that's a Waratah side full of confidence then I'm not sure we're watching the same team. The score flattered the Tahs because the Highlanders bombed at least 2 tries in the first half and 1 in the second.
        The Tahs even had a chance at the end of the game to win it but for the umpteenth time gave away a turnover.
        Add all the poor kicking options and it make it very frustrating to watch

        Date and time
        March 10, 2012, 7:32PM
    • Highlanders will destroy the Tahs I'm afraid. They are everything a south island team should be - tough and uncompromising up front and with a few of their new additions, deadly out wide.

      Can't see the Tahs matching them, Otago rugby has something to prove at the moment, and the pretty boys from Sydney may find that it's not just the weather that can be hostile down in Dunedin.

      Highlanders by 10+

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      March 09, 2012, 2:49PM
      • @Piru, nice to see you back. Nothing much has changed. I see you're still pining for NZ. However, I fear you may be right. Highlanders will really tear in at the contact. If the Tahs don't match this physicality they will lose. I see we've just lost Cliffy. This game last year we folded against the Saders. I hope history doesn't repeat. If we stay strong we certainly can win.

        Date and time
        March 09, 2012, 3:51PM
      • @piru
        can guarantee the weather conditions won't upset the Tahs as there is a lid on the new stadium, so no pain in the rain.
        where on earth did 'the pretty boys from Sydney' come from?
        I know it's expcted to be 38 degrees in Perth today - has someone been out in the sun too long?

        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        March 09, 2012, 4:03PM
      • Bugger !
        Have just heard this minute that Palu out for Highlanders game.
        Massive loss for Tahs.
        Highlanders by 10+ might now not be such a bold prediction.

        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        March 09, 2012, 4:09PM

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