How can the Force defeat the Waratahs?
This is a question that a couple of months ago, most people would have had a simple answer to. They cannot win. But as at the 11/04/2014, is this still the case?
The New South Wales Waratahs have had an extremely positive start to the season. The media have been raving about the Force, but the reality is that the Waratahs have played the same amount of games as the Force and have accumulated two extra points. They have also been to South Africa and have got that difficult part of the fixture list firmly in the rear view mirror.
The two defeats the Waratahs suffered were away from home against two of the certain incumbents of the top six, the Brumbies and the Sharks. Very few teams in the competition have been able to win frequently away from home and the Waratahs were no exception. Their victory against the Stormers is the obvious odd one out here as they out-muscled a flat Cape Town side in a dull affair.
Since Michael Cheika has arrived in Sydney, he has lit a fire in the bellies of the Waratahs. He repeatedly refers to aggression and physicality when interviewed and the Waratahs have taken up this mantra on the park. They field a monstrous forward pack, possibly the biggest in Australia, and use them to soften up opponents before unleashing their formidable back line.
They have a litany of destructive ball carriers up front. Jacques Potgeiter, Michael Hooper and Will Skelton are a trio that could threaten any side in this department, and even the loss of Wycliff Palu does not diminish their running options up front overly much. The Waratahs virtually never fail to get over the advantage line, and their clean out is as effective as it is violent. The addition of Nick Phipps to the team has induced a little bit of unpredictability to their play too as he is capable of having a snipe and releasing his back line.
Out wide is where it really begins for the Waratahs. Bernard Foley is a tidy operator and their main tactical kicker. He is capable of taking on the line himself and he frequently alternates positions with Kurtley Beale, thus keeping opponents guessing. Adam Ashley-Cooper is a tremendous player, absolutely world class and he compliments the back line very well. And then we have Israel.
Folau is a monster. He has his timing down to a tee now and ghosts up on the shoulder of the outside backs right on the advantage line. He is usually at full speed when he receives the ball against static defenses and brushes world class defenders aside like children. The reason the defenses are standing still is that they are fixed in position by the threat of Beale and Ashley-Cooper. Once he breaches the line at all, itís virtually lights out and seven points.
But for Force fans, all is not lost. There are certainly weaknesses in this side, that perhaps the Force are good enough to exploit. Several times over the last few years, both at super 15 level and international level, the Benny Robinson/Polota-Nau/Sekope Kepu axis have been demolished at scrum time. If the Force front row can get an early advantage over these three, the penalties should flow. The Waratahs have worked on this aspect of their game, but they can be a bit wayward if pressure is applied.
When the Force have the ball, it is the Bernard Foley/Kurtley Beale channel that they should aim all of their traffic down. These two, despite their brilliance in attack, are at best reluctant defenders. Michael Hooper will be lurking, attempting to turn the ball over or assist where possible, but make no mistake, the likes of McCalman, Godwin and Nick Cummins can make serious inroads here.
Due to the Waratahs attritional style of play, it is inevitable that they will take casualties. This week they have to do without the services of Wycliff Palu, who is a massive loss in his own right, but it is the loss of Peter Betham and Alofa Alofa who would worry me more if I was a Waratahs supporter. Here is why.
Palu has an adequate replacement in David Dennis, a capped Wallaby and accomplished veteran player. On the wings the Waratahs have Cam Crawford and Robert Horne. Horne is a stop gap measure who is really a centre. Crawford is a relatively novice player who doesnít quite have the wow factor that the injured duo have. Folau for all of his attacking might is not a recognized territorial kicker. Horne certainly is not. Crawford can kick, but my suspicion is that he will play on the right wing thus minimizing his angle of kick return, should he aim for touch. A lot of centres who get stuck on the wing have a tendency to come up flat and leave plenty of space behind them. I believe that Rob Horne will be no different. And on the other side of the park, if the ball is put behind Crawford and to the side of Folau, the Force can make gains. We all know how dangerous Folau is on the counter attack but if the chasing line from an Ebersohn kick is spot on, it is my belief that huge chunks of territory can be carved off in the Waratahs half.
To sum up the situation, if the Force can pin the Waratahs back inside their own half, and somehow chop the Waratahs forwards down before the advantage line, they should be able to frustrate them and earn dividends on this. Combine this with pressure at the set-piece, particularly at scrum time, and it is certain that Ebersohn will have opportunities to shoot for goal.
But when I look across the park at the Waratahs, I see a driven, relentless juggernaut built on a simple brutal game plan, and implemented with frenzied aggression. If you cannot stop berserkers like Poitgeiter from smashing their way over the advantage line, they eventually will suck in more numbers of your defenders than you can afford, and you canít afford to leave the open spaces unmanned with predators like Folau around. In attack you can never go stagnant or predictable as Michael Hooper is just waiting to go hard at the ball on the ground, and more often than not, he comes up with it.
I just think that the Force will come up short here. The Waratahs can be stopped, but trying to stop some of their forwards from getting over the advantage line is like trying to catch a piano from falling down a stairs. And once you let Folau breach your frontline defence, you may as well start marching back to the half way line.
Waratahs by 10
Over and out,