Waratahs vs. Brumbies: 5 Key Battles for Super Rugby Semi-Final

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

Waratahs vs. Brumbies: 5 Key Battles for Super Rugby Semi-Final

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    Mark Nolan/Getty Images

    The all-Australian semi-final of the Super XV brings together some of the tournament’s most exciting players in Sydney this weekend.

    The Waratahs enjoyed a weekend off while the Brumbies battled past the Chiefs.

    The men from Canberra stand on the brink of a second successive final appearance, while Michael Cheika’s Waratahs are looking to reach their first final since 2011.

    These two sides have provided some of the most entertaining rugby in the competition this year, so we could be in for some fireworks on Saturday.

    Here are the key battles.

1. Up Front

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    Just four weeks ago, the Waratahs annihilated the Brumbies 39-8, a performance built on a dominant forward display.

    If Laurie Fisher’s side allow the Sydney men to do the same job on them this weekend, there will only be one winner. The wily old coach knows this, however, and he has already challenged his front rower Scott Sio to step up to the mark in the physicality stakes, per the Sydney Morning Herald:

    The Brumbies will be intent on making amends on Saturday night, and Fisher believes Sio can take his game to another level in the battle between four Wallabies props.

    "Scotty has developed into a Test player, but by no means is he the finished product," he said.

    "He needs to bring a real edge to his game on Saturday night and that's his challenge ... It's going to be a physical battle, he's 120 kilos and he's got to be front and centre of the physical exchanges, be where the collisions are.

    "We did not match their physicality or work-rate last time ... their exponentially fitter than they were two years ago. You have to match everything they bring to the game."

2. Goal Kicking

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    Mark Nolan/Getty Images

    Some familiar frailties appeared on Christain Lealiifano’s radar last week in the Brumbies’ win over the Chiefs, as the Canberra Times’ Chris Dutton reported via Rugby Heaven:

    He had kicked four from five until scores were level deep into the second half. He had a penalty shot with it locked at 25-all, but missed. It didn't prove costly as Jarrad Butler barged over in a rolling maul not long after. Again Lealiifano was in the spotlight with a penalty shot he would normally expect to make as the Brumbies led 32-30. But again he shanked it and the Chiefs were left with the hope that a penalty conversion was enough to pinch the game.

    In a semi-final where nerves could result in another tight affair, it could come down to who can keep his composure at the kicking tee, and the contest between Lealiifano and Bernard Foley could decide the winner.

3. Folau vs. Speight

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    Israel Folau has had an outstanding season scoring and creating tries for the Waratahs. But the Brumbies have a talisman of their own who exploded into life in their win over the Chiefs, as Chris Dutton reported in the Canberra Times per Rugby Heaven:

    If there's any lingering doubt about Henry Speight's Wallabies credentials, it was erased in a superb opening half from the Brumbies winger. Speight broke a tackle every time he touched the ball and ran for 134 metres in the first 40 minutes of the game. He's a genuine game breaker and capable of stepping straight into Test duties when he becomes eligible to play for Australia in September.

    Both sides will be looking to get the ball in the hands of their danger men as often as possible on Saturday, and that’s when we’ll see the fireworks.

4. Potgieter vs. Fardy

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    Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

    The Waratahs’ adopted South African back rower, Jacques Potgieter, has made a big impression this season with his strong ball carrying and big hits, and they will need him to bring his A game on Saturday against Scott Fardy.

    The Brumbies blindside flanker has had a tremendous campaign for the 2013 runners-up and was impressive in Wallaby gold against France this summer.

    These two have the power to shift the game’s momentum with well-timed tackles, and they will be crucial to their sides’ respective chances of making the final.

5. Hooper vs. Buttler

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    Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    On the other side of the back row we find an equally intriguing confrontation.

    Michael Hooper has gained lots of admirers this season for his pace and all-action style, while Jarrad Butler has been one of the unsung stars of the campaign.

    There is often little time for a contest to unfold at the breakdown in Super Rugby, so if either man can make some steals on the floor they are likely to be pivotal in the context of the game.

    In the loose, Hooper has the edge with his flat speed and fast feet, but this will be a contest to keep an eye on.