We're set for the final round of the Super Rugby regular season and the makeup of the Australian conference will come down to this weekend.
Waratahs vs Blues
The Waratahs are still a chance of securing a place in the Super Rugby finals but Daryl Gibson’s men will likely need a bonus-point victory to keep their knockout hopes alive. It won’t be easy for them, up against an in-form Blues side that has smashed the Brumbies and pushed the Hurricanes in the last two weeks.
The Waratahs have won five of their last seven encounters against the Blues.
The Waratahs haven’t beaten the Blues in Auckland since 2009, their only Super Rugby victory at Eden Park.
The Blues haven’t lost to an Australian team at home since May 2013.
The Blues have named an unchanged lineup after defeating the Brumbies 40-15 last Friday, as Tana Umaga’s men look to finish the season off in strong form.
For the Waratahs, Reece Robinson will start on the wing after Taqele Naiyaravoro was suspended for his collision with Beauden Barrett last Saturday. In the forwards, Jack Dempsey will start at blindside flanker with Dave Dennis shifting to number eight, Dean Mumm to lock and Wycliff Palu to the bench.
Where the match will be won
We can expect an attacking game from the Waratahs, who will be looking to throw the ball around in search of a winning bonus point. The Blues will be looking to stamp their authority on the match early, and if they do, it could spell disaster for the Waratahs, who have to score three more tries than their opponents to clinch a five-point win.
BLUES: Melani Nanai, Matt Duffie, Male Sa’u, Piers Francis, Tevita Li, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Steven Luatua, Kara Pryor, Jerome Kaino, Josh Bekhuis, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, James Parsons (c), Sam Prattley
Reserves: Matt Moulds, Nic Mayhew, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Scrafton, Blake Gibson, Billy Guyton, George Moala, Lolagi Visinia
WARATAHS: Andrew Kellaway, Reece Robinson, Israel Folau, Rob Horne, Matt Carraro, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper (c), Jack Dempsey, Will Skelton, Dean Mumm, Tom Robertson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Paddy Ryan
Reserves: Hugh Roach, Jeremy Tilse, Angus Ta’avao, Sam Lousi, Wycliff Palu, Matt Lucas, David Horwitz, Jim Stewart
Reds vs Rebels
Both sides are out of finals contention but will be looking to finish their season on a high. The Reds will farewell five players who are set to play their final game for Queensland while the Rebels struggle to field a side that’s depleted by injury.
The Reds have won eight of their 11 matches against the Rebels, but the Melbourne-based side has enjoyed recent success having won three of their last five clashes.
The Rebels have lost their last three away games, conceding 157 points across the matches.
Three changes have been made to the Reds starting XV with veteran prop Greg Holmes returning from injury for his final game. James Slipper and Jack Tuttle have been ruled out by injury, opening up an opportunity for Sef Fa’agase and Tom Banks to start. Liam Gill will captain the side in the absence of Slipper.
The Rebels are struggling with injuries to the point where they’ve had to call on young Australian U20s star Jack Maddocks onto the bench despite not being contracted until the 2017 season. In other changes, Luke Jones, Sean McMahon and Mitch Inman return from injury while former Sevens star Paul Asquith will start his first Super Rugby match after debuting off the bench two weeks ago.
Where the game will be won
The battle of the forwards will be crucial to the clash with both teams looking to unleash their X-factor in the backs. The clash between Liam Gill and Sean McMahon will be a sight to behold as these good mates continue to fight for a spot in Michael Cheika’s Wallabies team.
REDS: Tom Banks, Chris Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Henry Taefu, Eto Nabuli, Duncan Paia’aua, Nick Frisby, Curtis Browning, Liam Gill (c), Hendrik Tui, Kane Douglas, Cadeyrn Neville, Greg Holmes, Andrew Ready, Sef Fa’agase
Reserves: Saia Fainga’a, Ben Daley, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Tui, Michael Gunn, James Tuttle, Alex Gibbon, Campbell Magnay
REBELS: Paul Asquith, Sefa Naivalu, Mitch Inman, Reece Hodge, Tom English, Jack Debreczeni, Nic Stirzaker (c), Colby Fainga’a, Jordy Reid, Sean McMahon, Culum Retallick, Luke Jones, Laurie Weeks, James Hanson, Toby Smith
Reserves: Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah Nau, Jamie Hagan, Sam Jeffries, Rob Leota, Ben Meehan, Sione Tuipulotu, Jack Maddocks
Brumbies vs Force
The Brumbies will know exactly the task ahead of them, when full-time sounds in Auckland on Friday. If the Waratahs lose to the Blues the Brumbies finals spot is secure, but if the Waratahs win, the Brumbies have to match their points tally against the Force.
The Brumbies are looking to become the first Australian team in Super Rugby to win all conference matches.
The Brumbies are currently on a five-game winning streak against the Force.
The Force have lost their last three matches against Australian opposition.
Stephen Larkham has made just one change to the Brumbies lineup that went down to the Blues last weekend with Ruan Smith coming into the starting XV for Ben Alexander who moves to the bench. Captain Stephen Moore will run out for his 163rd Super Rugby match, breaking Nathan Sharpe’s record for an Australian player.
For the Force, Brynard Stander will start at blindside flanker, shifting Richard Hardwick to number eight for Angus Cottrell who has been ruled out through injury. In the backs, Ian Prior will start at scrumhalf ahead of Ryan Louwrens.
Where the game will be won
The Brumbies’ game plan could well depend on how the Waratahs go on Friday night, but expect Stephen Larkham’s men to rely heavily on their forwards. The men up front have set up numerous victories for the Brumbies this season off the back of a strong set piece, and the Force will need to nullify their impact in that area if they’re to have a chance.
BRUMBIES: Aidan Toua, Nigel Ah Wong, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, James Dargaville, Christian Lealiifano (co-captain), Tomas Cubelli, Michael Wells, Jarrad Butler, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Rory Arnold, Ruan Smith, Stephen Moore (co-captain), Scott Sio
Reserves: Josh Mann-Rea, Allan Alaalatoa, Ben Alexander, Blake Enever, Tom Staniforth, Joe Powell, Andrew Smith, Lausii Taliauli
FORCE: Dane Haylett-Petty, Marcel Brache, Ben Tapuai, Kyle Godwin, Luke Morahan (c), Jono Lance, Ian Prior, Richard Hardwick, Chris Alcock, Byrnard Stander, Rory Walton, Ross Haylett-Petty, Guy Millar, Harry Scoble, Pek Cowan
Reserves: Anaru Rangi, Francois van Wyk, Jermaine Ainsley, Matt Philip, Kane Koteka, Ryan Louwrens, Peter Grant, Semisi Masirewa