Blues (5th) V Waratahs (3rd) @ Eden Park
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 13, Blues 9, Waratahs 4
In Auckland: Blues 5 Waratahs 0
Last time: Waratahs 37 Blues 16 @ Sydney Football stadium 5/4/08
It is simple equation, win and join or surpass the Bulls at the top of the table, or lose and potentially drop out of the top end of the table.
For the home team, they will bask in the glory of the Garden of Eden, the stronghold of New Zealand rugby. The Blues will be trying to avoid only the third time they have suffered back to back losses at New Zealand’s largest ground.
All Black Tony Woodcock remains out of the team, and the hammering received at the hands of the chiefs has seen Coach Pat Lam shore up the defences.
In form international Isaia Toeava moves into outside centre, where he has played for the All Blacks, and second five eighth Jamie Helleur, a noted defensive player, takes his place in the starting line up.
The Blues will bring the most potent attacking record to the fixture, scoring 23 tries and making more running metres than any other team, but also wield the worst defensive record. Twice they have conceded 50+ points this season.
The Waratahs will arrive on a two match losing streak, but will look to record their fourth victory over a New Zealand team which will see them take the best season record for NSW against kiwi opposition.
Kurtley Beale, the dynamic but erratic fly half, drops out of the starting team to give way to Daniel Halangahu—starting his first match in almost two years.
Quite simply, the Waratahs were woeful against a terrible undermanned Crusaders team last week (who have more front line injuries—six—than any other side).
The Waratahs should have the stronger set piece and defence, but have looked rudderless in attack at times this season, hence the change at standoff.
While they remain third on the table going into this match, eight teams have scored more tries than NSW this season. It follows a tradition going back to 2005 when Australia’s strongest franchise on paper has struggled to post tries.
The Blues though, will need to tighten their defence. If they can do so without compromising their freewheeling attack, they should extend their impressive home record against the Waratahs, and move into the top four.
Their hard hitting defence has been a feature so far this season, but so has their crooked pattern defence. If they can tighten this up, they will arrest their astonishing defensive leak of 26 tries in their first six matches.
Waratahs: 15 Sam Norton-Knight, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Will Caldwell, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements:16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Chris Thomson, 19 Luke Doherty, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Timana Tahu.
Blues: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Onosa'i Auva'a, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tevita Mailau.
Replacements:16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 Rene Ranger.