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QUARTERFINAL PREVIEW: Waratahs v Highlanders

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Thursday, July 19, 2018    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Match details: Waratahs v Highlanders, 10.05pm (NZT) Saturday 21 July, Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Played: 23
Won: Waratahs 14, Highlanders 9

FORM
Both teams come into this knockout clash without any real consistency behind them following the June break. The Waratahs piled 77 points on a 14-man Sunwolves side in round 18 before being shocked 41-30 by the Brumbies in round 19. The Highlanders fell to both the Crusaders and Highlanders before edging the Rebels 43-37 in Dunedin last week to round out their regular season.

LAST TIME
The Waratahs will take a lot of confidence from their round 14 clash the Highlanders in Sydney. The Waratahs snapped a two-year losing streak of Australian sides against New Zealand opposition in their record-breaking 41-12 win. It was the Waratahs biggest ever win against the Highlanders and snapped a four-match losing streak against the Dunedin outfit. 



WELCOME BACK
In a huge boost to their hopes, the Highlanders have welcomed back a number of stars rested from last week’s 43-37 win over the Rebels. All Blacks Aaron Smith and Ben Smith boost the backline along with the hugely impressive Rob Thompson at centre. In the pack, Luke Whitelock comes in at No.8 with Ash Dixon and Elliot Dixon adding some extra firepower to the bench.

BACKLINE BATTLE

Boasting a backline full of playmakers, exciting speedsters and explosive runners, the Waratahs have averaged 35 points per game this season – the most of any team in Super Rugby. Hulking 125kg wing Taqele Naiyaravoro has been the major recipient of the Waratahs enterprising attack this year with 15 tries – the equal most tries scored in a single season in Super Rugby history. The battle of the inside halves will be crucial with the classy pair of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley squaring off with Highlanders duo Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga. The superstar showdown occurs at the back with the world’s two best fullbacks facing off in the shape of Israel Folau and Ben Smith.
FAST FACT
The Waratahs have won four of their last five finals games played on home soil. Their only defeat in that span came in 2015 against the Highlanders. (Opta).

THE SCOOP
The Highlanders will be eyeing an unlikely return to Dunedin if they can get past the Waratahs in Sydney. Should Aaron Mauger’s side win, and the Jaguares take out the Lions in Johannesburg, then the Highlanders will return to Dunedin to host a semifinal next weekend. But the Highlanders will be best served not to look too far ahead. The Waratahs have proven they can pile on points in quick time against even the best defences in the competition. If the Highlanders take the Waratahs lightly they could be in for a world of hurt in Sydney.

TEAMS
Highlanders:
Ben Smith (co-captain), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, James Lentjes, Liam Squire, Jackson Hemopo, Tom Franklin, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon (cc), Ask Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon, Kayne Hammington, Josh Ioane, Matt Faddes.

NSW Waratahs:
Israel Folau, Alex Newsome, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley (capt), Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Will Miller, Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson. Reserves: Tolu Latu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Paddy Ryan, Tom Staniforth, Brad Wilkin, Jake Gordon, Cam Clark, Bryce Hegarty.