Waratahs, Rebels to meet in key match in Super Rugby
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The New South Wales Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels will meet Friday in a match critical to the outcome of the Australian conference as Super Rugby resumes after a four-week break for June internationals.
The Waratahs lead the conference by a single point from the Rebels with three rounds of the regular season remaining and Friday’s clash in Melbourne may decide which team earns the automatic playoff spot from Australia. It is unlikely the second-place team in Australia will amass enough points to progress to the playoffs as a wild card.
Both teams will be without leading players and the Waratahs especially will be nursing bruised bodies after the Wallabies three-test series against Ireland.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley will lead New South Wales in the absence of Waratahs and Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, who sustained a hamstring injury in last weekend’s third test as is likely to miss the rest of the regular season. The injury ends Hooper’s run of 79 consecutive Super Rugby appearances for the Waratahs.
Will Miller will take over from Hooper on the openside flank after playing for much of the season on the blindside.
“I think he’s been itching for a chance to get in in the seven jersey,” Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said. “We’ve been playing two smaller loose forwards all year and it’s a chance for him to see what he can do.”
The Rebels have named British and Irish Lions lock Geoff Parling to replace the injured Adam Coleman while former Wallabies prop Ben Daly will make his first start of the season at loosehead.
With Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia sidelined for the rest of the season, Mike Ruru will start at scrumhalf as he did in the last match before the June test break. The Rebels’ lineup includes 11 players with test experience while the Waratahs have 12.
Dane Haylett-Petty, who will play at fullback for the Rebels after playing on the wing for the Wallabies, said the Waratahs will miss Hooper’s leadership.
“He’s hugely valuable and I think it’s going to be quite a big test for the Waratahs,” Haylett-Petty said. “It’s been five or six years since he’s missed a game and he’s probably the main voice in that group so it will be interesting to see how they go without him.”
The ACT Brumbies who are third in the Australian conference and retain only the faintest chance of reaching the playoffs will take on the Wellington-based Hurricanes on Saturday.
The Dunedin-based Highlanders will play the Hamilton-based Chiefs in Suva, Fiji on Saturday in a match which will bear heavily on the wild-card race. The Highlanders are third in the New Zealand conference with 40 points and the Chiefs fourth with 37.
The Johannesburg-based Lions have a chance to seal first place in the South African conference when they take on the Durban-based Sharks. The Lions lead the conference by six points from Argentina’s Jaguares who are on a seven-match winning streak and face the Cape Town-based Stormers.
But the Jaguares are also likely to be hard hit by injuries and tiredness after June tests. They contributed most of the Argentina team which lost twice to Wales and once to Scotland in June test series.