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Super Rugby: Waratahs v Brumbies preview
The strongly-favoured NSW Waratahs have the lure of hosting their first Super Rugby final if they can get past the ACT Brumbies in a mouthwatering all-Australian semi-final clash at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
The Waratahs are chasing their first Super Rugby title after two losing finals and are in the midst of a seven-match unbeaten run, including a 39-8 thumping of the Brumbies in Sydney.
The 'Tahs have been the perennial underachievers in 18 years of Super Rugby, but under taskmaster Michael Cheika they finished seven points clear in this season's final standings and look the team to beat.
The Sydneysiders have the twice triumphant Brumbies to overcome on home soil to ensure that they will stage this year's final against the winners of the Crusaders and Sharks, who do battle in Christchurch on the same day.
It will be the fourth time the Waratahs have hosted a semi-final, with their only loss coming to the Brumbies, 51-10 in 2002.
Even though the 'Tahs crushed the Brumbies five tries to one at their last meeting, Cheika is warning his charges to expect a torrid Australian derby with the Canberra side, who dethroned double defending champions the Waikato Chiefs 32-30 in last week's home play-off.
"Their key players are back and they've got just as many international players as we have and they've got an excellent record in the last two or three seasons," Cheika said.
"It's going to be a really good match. We know what we have to do. We're concentrating very much on our style and what we need to deliver in the game - try and turn the dial up as high as possible come kick-off."
Cheika has recalled South African powerhouse lock Jacques Potgieter and is leaving Wallaby giant Will Skelton on the bench for a second-half impact.
Meanwhile, 12-try full-back Israel Folau and winger Rob Horne both return to the side after missing the final match of the regular season against Queensland Reds because of a thigh problem and 'flu respectively.
The Brumbies are only weakened for Saturday's match by long-term injuries to Wallabies David Pocock and Stephen Moore.
Henry Speight and Robbie Coleman retain their places on the wings, while Wallabies Joe Tomane and Pat McCabe will offer back-three cover from the bench meaning there is no place in the side for winger Clyde Rathbone, the sole survivor of the Brumbies' last Super Rugby title in 2004.
"To have got through last weekend injury free, it's great for us to be playing again this weekend to maintain momentum," Brumbies director of rugby Laurie Fisher said.
"We were comfortable with where our set piece was last week against the Chiefs. I expect those areas to work in our favour again this weekend.
"The result won't be determined by who's favourite. The result will be decided by who is the better team on the night.
"There's an intense rivalry which has been there since the competition started and I'm expecting a fierce clash of bodies this weekend."
The Waratahs have a strong record at home over the Brumbies, winning seven of their last eight meetings.
Waratahs: 15 Folau, 14 Alofa, 13 Ashley-Cooper, 12 Beale, 11 Horne, 10 Foley, 9 Phipps, 1 Robinson, 2 Polota-Nau, 3 Kepu, 4 Potgieter, 5 Douglas, 6 Hoiles, 7 Hooper (capt), 8 Palu
Replacements (two to be omitted): 16 Latu, 17 Ryan, 18 Tilse, 19 Skelton, 20 Chapman, 21 McCutcheon, 22 McKibbin, 23 Naiyaravoro, 24 Carraro, 25 Crawford
Brumbies: 15 Mogg, 14 Speight, 13 Kuridrani, 12 Lealiifano, 11 Coleman, 10 Toomua, 9 White, 1 Sio, 2 Mann-Rea, 3 Alexander, 4 Power, 5 Carter, 6 Fardy, 7 Butler, 8 Mowen (capt)
Replacements: 16 Murphy, 17 Smith, 18 Alaalatoa, 19 Auelua, 20 McVerry, 21 Dowsett, 22 Tomane, 23 McCabe
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|Friday 13th February|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Melbourne Rebels|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Reds|
|17:10||Lions vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 14th February|
|06:35||Blues vs Chiefs|
|15:05||Sharks vs Cheetahs|
|17:05||Bulls vs Stormers|
|Sunday 15th February|
|06:05||Waratahs vs Western Force|
|Friday 20th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Brumbies|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Waratahs|
|17:10||Bulls vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 21st February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Reds vs Western Force|
|15:05||Stormers vs Blues|
|17:10||Sharks vs Lions|
|Friday 27th February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Reds|
|11:00||Western Force vs Hurricanes|
|17:10||Cheetahs vs Blues|
|Saturday 28th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Brumbies|
|15:05||Bulls vs Sharks|
|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Friday 6th March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Highlanders|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Western Force|
|Saturday 7th March|
|06:35||Blues vs Lions|
|08:40||Reds vs Waratahs|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com