Can the Tahs spoil the Brumbies party?
Michael Foley. AAP Images
First year Super Rugby coaches, Jake White and Michael Foley, will be treading vastly different paths tomorrow night when they meet at ANZ Stadium.
White has dramatically transformed the Brumbies from a player-power based basket-case into a genuine premiership contender, while Foley has set two unwanted records with the Waratahs – 10 losses in a season, including six on the trot.
If that’s stretched to 11 and seven, it will be only the second time in 16 years the Brumbies have won in Sydney, and that was a semi in 2002 with a thumping 53-10 victory before winning the final 33-31 over the Crusaders.
A staggering stat – one win in 16 years.
Their teams for tomorrow night clearly show the difference in stability.
The Australian Conference-leading Brumbies are unchanged, but the Waratahs have made five changes, three of them major punts.
Grayson Hart, the 24-year-old half-back on debut, in preference to the experienced pair of Sarel Pretorius and Brendan McKibbin, and switching fullback Bernard Foley to fly-half for the first time.
The totally untried pivot pairing shunts Wallaby fly-half Berrick Barnes, with two man-of-the-match performances against Wales, to inside centre.
For a coach under the ultimate pump to keep his job for next season, that three-pronged punt will prove to be either a dramatic career-saving bonus, or the exit door will be open wide.
Hart is a left-field selection.
He’s not even a Waratah squad member, but he has form.
New Zealand born, and a nephew of former All Blacks coach John Hart, Grayson was a member of the Junior All Blacks that won the World Cup in 2008, keeping new All Black half Aaron Smith on the bench.
Hart moved the Sydney last year to link with Southern Districts where he’s been outstanding.
The other surprise is the retention of Dean Mumm over Wallaby lock Sitaleki Timani. But a welcome return for winger Lachie Turner from long-term injury, forcing young Tom Kingston onto the bench.
Then the question, will the Brumbies highly-successful captain Ben Mowen, prop Dan Palmer, and goal-kicker Zac Holmes, return home to end the Sydney drought and keep their side in finals contention?
Mowen and Palmer are two of the many talented Waratahs let go over the years. Holmes was never recognised by NSW selectors at Northern Suburbs, and had to go to get a run.
The interesting side issues to the final two Super Rugby rounds – the Waratahs are playing for lost pride, the Brumbies have regained their pride and are now playing for position, as are the Reds, who meet the Waratahs in the final round.
Ironic isn’t it?
The lowly-performing Waratahs could ruin the Brumbies and Reds party, although with their disastrous season that would be an injustice.
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