This Super Rugby round will be vital to coaches Michael Foley and Jake White. Waratah Foley is in Perth to do battle tonight with a resurgent Force, hoping Friday the 13th is but a myth.
Brumby White has the top of the Australian Conference to defend tomorrow night against the improving Rebels at Canberra Stadium.
The defending champion Reds have a bye to lick their wounds after three successive defeats, and to count the days to when Quade Cooper, Mike Harris, Ben Lucas, and the Fainga’a twins return from injury.
On paper, the Waratahs and Brumbies should win. But should, and paper, don’t count anymore.
The Waratahs are coming off a bye, so they’re fresh. Foley has made the understatement of the season that it’s time his team made some noise.
The Waratahs are a far better side than two wins and four losses, and have the backline cattle in Berrick Barnes, Tom Carter, Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Bernard Foley, and the exciting young winger Tom Kingston, providing the pack can win them clean and quick ball.
There’s the problem – David Pocock.
The Force’s inspirational captain and one of the best pilferers in world rugby, Pocock is a one-man destruction unit. Throw in the likes of evergreen lock Nathan Sharpe, Richard Brown, Nathan Charles, and Toby Lynn, and the much-vaunted Waratahs pack will be under intense pressure for the entire 80 minutes.
There is a litmus test here, In their last games, the powerhouse Chiefs have beaten the Force 20-12, and the Waratahs 30-13. But in the credit column, the Force hammered the Reds 45-19 in their previous game.
This Force-Waratahs clash should go down to the wire, especially as NIB Stadium is likely to be a full house.
In Canberra, how Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor play for the Rebels will severely test the Brumbies, who have found a new lease on life under Jake White.
The South African Rugby World Cup-winning coach believes the Brumbies can keep Beale and O’Connor quiet. A mighty big call.
Concentrating on the talented twosome will leave plenty of holes for Mark Gerrard, Lachlan Miller, and Mitch Inman to show their speed to great effect. Having said that, Beale and O’Connor invariably find a way around close marking.
Watch for Brumby full-back Jesse Mogg, one of the most exciting custodians in the tournament, bobbing up from nowhere with incisive runs on a regular basis. He doesn’t look the part, but he sure fulfils it.
Flanker Michael Hooper is another Brumby to watch. He’s a junior Pocock.
This game should be close, as well.
In the wash-up, it’s Michael Foley, Jake White, and two question marks? The underdogs are barking.