The Sydney-Melbourne rivalry has traditionally been quite large in Australian sports. The two biggest cities in the land going one-on-one always turns heads, and tonights clash between the Waratahs and the Rebels at Allianz Stadium will do the same.
The Waratahs have been one of the best performing teams this season. Two very compelling victories from their first two matches and a decent outing last week in a five point loss to last seasons runners-up, the Brumbies, have them sitting in 5th position on the ladder.
As for the Rebels, after a flying pre-season (in which they defeated the Waratahs in a trial game) they have slipped down into 13th position with just one win to their name -- a five-try victory at AAMI Park against the Cheetahs -- and two poor losses.
Both teams will be wanting to get back on the winners list this weekend, and while many punters will be tipping the 'Tahs, they must also remember that in their last Super Rugby encounter in round 15 of last season, it was the Rebels who emerged as the two-point victors of the night.
This will play on the minds of the Waratahs team, but with the squad they have, it won't be too much of a factor. For Melbourne, they will be driving off the knowledge that they can beat the Waratahs, as well as the fact that they have an uncanny ability to step up in huge games like this one.
The backline of the Waratahs is as strong as any. With Israel Folau the headline act, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Alofa Alofa and former Rebels Kurtley Beale and Peter Betham all provide great scoring outlets. Another former Rebel, Nick Phipps, alongside Bernard Foley are two of Australia's better young halves and have been crucial in play-creation. The backrow is one to look out for as well with the 115kg South African lock Jaques Potgeiter moved to blindside, and Wallabies Michael Hooper and Dave Dennis playing on the openside and no.8 respectively.
The Melbourne Rebels have Angus Roberts coming into the squad to replace the injured Jason Woodward. Roberts' performances so far this season as the replacement flyhalf have left a lot to be desired; a switch to fullback might be what he needs to get into some form. Alongside him, 50th gamer Lachie Mitchell and Tom English have both been impressive and will continue to work hard on the wings, while Mitch Inman and especially Tamati Ellison will need to step up on the big occasion at centre. Expect good things from Bryce Hegarty.
One of Melbourne's strong points this season have been their scrum. While they were, at times, harshly punished by the referee in last weeks encounter against the Crusaders, they have had favourable figures this season when it comes to scrumming. Paul Alo-Emile has big boots to fill though, with prop Laurie Weeks sidelined due to a concussion. Hugh Pyle, Sean McMahon, Scott Fuglistaller and captain Scott Higginbotham have all been influential in the success of the Rebels scrum and will want to keep that going.
Although a win for the Rebels would be nice, perhaps a more important factor than a result is simply an evaluation of their ability against, quite possibly, the yardstick of Australian rugby in the Waratahs team. There is no better stage to see how far Melbourne have come, and how far they still need to go than playing NSW on their home turf. Regardless of the result, it is certain Tony McGahan will take some vitally important notes away from this clash.
With a tough fixture ahead of them, the Rebels will be searching for a win in order to live up to their pre-season hype, but will the Waratahs be too strong for them? All the pundits say 'yes'; do you as well?
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