|Blues v Waratahs: Friday 5.35pm (AEST)
at Eden Park, Auckland
|Best Bet: Waratahs WIN ($2.00)
Value Bet: Waratahs by 1-5 ($5.00)
The Waratahs are fighting for their lives, while the Blues are looking to continue an imposing home record against overseas interlopers.
The Blues have retained the same starting line-up, while All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and George Moala have both been bracketed on the bench for potential returns.
The Waratahs have made four changes, with Jack Dempsey coming in at No.6 and Dean Mumm shifting to lock, Dave Dennis donning the No.8 jumper, and Reece Robinson coming in for the suspended Taqele Naiyaravoro on the wing. Wycliff Palu and Jim Stewart have been included on the bench.
The teams have clashed 20 times, with the Blues racking up a 12-8 advantage – including a 9-1 record at home. The Waratahs prevailed 23-11 in Sydney last year.
The Blues improved their record to 7-6-1 with a 40-15 thrashing of the Brumbies last Friday, suggesting that they would have been a strong chance for the finals if the competition’s format was fairer. The Blues are ranked 12th in attack and 11th in defence.
The Waratahs’ big wins over the Chiefs and Sunwovles were negated by a 29-17 home loss to the Hurricanes last weekend when they had a golden opportunity to take the conference lead off the Brumbies. They are ranked ninth in attack and fourth in defence.
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper has to inspire his troops with a terrier-like display, while Blues tyro Josh Bekhuis will be looking to get one over the Wallabies’ openside.
Stats That Matter
The Blues are 7-7 against the start in 2016, while the Waratahs are 8-6 ATS this year. The Blues are 8-7 at home – overall and ATS – since the start of 2015. The Waratahs are 9-5 on the road since the start of last season (8-6 against the line). The Waratahs have won two of the last three encounters, but the Blues have won three of the last five. Five of the last seven clashes have been decided by 1-12 margins. Home sides are 70-52-3 this season (66-60 against the start). Home underdogs are 8-26-3 overall and 20-23 ATS in 2016.
The Waratahs need to win – preferably with a bonus point – and hope that the Brumbies stumble against the Force. That desperation may propel them to victory in Auckland, but Eden Park has been a graveyard for overseas visitors in 2016. The Blues showed what they are capable of in dismantling the Brumbies last week, and the lack of pressure on the out-of-contention side makes them a dangerous proposition for the ’Tahs here. That being said, the Waratahs have enough world-class big-game players to eke out a tight win on Friday night and keep their hopes alive, if only for 24 hours.
The Way It’s Shaping
Waratahs by 3
Waratahs WIN ($2.00)
Waratahs by 1-5 ($5.00)