The much-vaunted Waratahs front row will face arguably their biggest test of the season against the Sharks in Saturday’s penultimate round of the Super 14.
The Sharks won the battle of the front rows in a tight 23-15 win over the Highlanders in Durban on Saturday, and the contest between the Sharks and NSW trios should be just as enthralling.
The Sharks’ front line of loose-head prop Tendai Mtawarira, hooker Bismarck du Plessis and tighthead prop John Smit will take on NSW’s formidable trio of Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Al Baxter.
Rupert Guinness writes for Rugbyheaven Aus from Durban that Cheetahs coach and two-time Springboks World Cup hooker Naka Drotske dubbed Robinson “under-rated” after his side lost to NSW on Friday: “In the competition so far, he gave all the other teams trouble.”
Waratahs coach Chris Hickey concurred. “Benn has basically played 80 minutes every game. He’s been pretty dominant,” he said. “[With] him, [hooker] Tatafu Polota-Nau and [tighthead] Al Baxter, we have a very strong front row. If you have that, there is a lot you can build around.”
Hickey believes the battle for possession at the set-piece will be tight on Saturday – especially in the scrum. “They are a big physical side who play pretty direct. They certainly put pressure on the Highlanders in the scrum. So that will be an area of strength for them,” he said.
But he is wary of their backs too: “They have a pack that will get them plenty up front, and some pretty good backs who will take advantage of that possession.”
Hickey took note of how the Highlanders failed to seize opportunities in the second half against the Sharks.
The Waratahs, too, have wasted chances – letting three tries slip in the first half against the Cheetahs.
“With 20 minutes to go, the Highlanders just needed to get a score, and I thought they could have won the game. They just didn’t take their chances,” Hickey said.
But the NSW coach was taken back by the aggression of Sharks half-back Rory Kockott who was red-carded at the 76th minute for striking Highlanders No.6 Adam Thomson. He is likely to be summoned to appear before a SANZAR judiciary for the offence.
Meanwhile, three Waratah players will undergo scans in Durban – Lote Tuqiri on his hurt knee that sidelined him at the 30th minute against the Cheetahs, Sam Norton-Knight (back) and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau (ankle).Tweet