Sydney – The New South Wales Waratahs will look to their explosive running back Israel Folau to overturn their losing Super 15 run against the Queensland Reds this weekend.
The underachieving Waratahs are out to end a five-game losing streak against the Reds in Sydney on Saturday, while champions Waikato Chiefs vie with the Otago Highlanders for top of the New Zealand conference.
In the weekend's feature South African match, the early season surprise team Golden Lions will attempt to keep three-time champions Northern Bulls winless after three rounds.
Wallabies star Folau picked up where he left off in last year's stellar debut season with three tries in the Waratahs' 43-21
bonus-point win over Western Force.
Code-hopper Folau and fellow Wallaby Kurtley Beale offer the Waratahs their best chance to down the Reds, with South African hard man Jacques Potgieter beefing up Waratahs' forwards for their anticipated confrontation with the Queensland pack.
Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper, who was instrumental in Reds' 27-17 win over the ACT Brumbies in Canberra last weekend, says his team has the mental edge over the Waratahs.
“No matter what sport you play, if you can get momentum against a team then momentum tends to stay in your favour for a while and it is a tough task to slow that momentum,” Cooper said.
“We know the Waratahs will be hungry to beat us, but at the same time this (Reds) team is hungry to continue to have that stranglehold.”
While there is interest in whether Folau will again prove too hot to handle, the Waratahs are talking up Potgieter's impact in his first season in Sydney.
“He's a big unit. He's got shoulders the size of a bloody door and he whacks blokes with them,” Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan said. “He's brought physicality and he enjoys the combative style of rugby.”
The Chiefs, bidding for a hat-trick of Super Rugby titles, have a lengthy injury list as they take on the Highlanders at home on Saturday.
The Waikato team had five more players added to their injury toll in last week's 18-10 victory over the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch while the Highlanders were too strong for the Auckland Blues 29-21.
“Regardless we'll be able to put a team together and we're confident it will be a pretty competitive side,” coach Dave Rennie said.
Bulls lineout general Victor Matfield will make his first start since coming out of retirement this year against the Lions in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Bulls have lost their opening two games against the Coastal Sharks and Central Cheetahs, while the Lions, promoted back into the Super 15, shocked the Cheetahs and the Western Stormers.
“We took a lot of belief out of the first game and we believed we could win again,” Lions captain Warren Whiteley said of his inexperienced team.
“We never look at a side and think they're favourites and it doesn't matter whether we're written off. We're a tight unit who believe in each other and who play for the jersey, for the pride of the Lions.”
Series leaders, the Sharks, have a bye while in other games, the Blues host the Crusaders and the Brumbies travel across Australia to face the Force in Perth.
The Cheetahs are unchanged for their first overseas game against the Melbourne Rebels, while the Stormers have home advantage against the Wellington Hurricanes. – Sapa-AFP