Super Rugby play-off race reaches climax in regular season’s final round

New South Wales Waratahs, clinging to top spot in the Australian conference, will hope to stave off the challenge from the second-placed ACT Brumbies and secure a home semi-final with win over the Queensland Reds.

Nick Phipps of the Waratahs during the Super Rugby match between Toyota Cheetahs and Waratahs at Free State Stadium on June 06, 2015 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images
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The race for the Super Rugby play-offs reaches its climax in the final round of the regular season this weekend, but the competition between hopefuls for World Cup places offers an intriguing subplot in Australia.

The reigning champions New South Wales Waratahs, clinging to top spot in the Australian conference, will hope to stave off the challenge from the second-placed ACT Brumbies and secure a home semi-final with a big win over the lowly Queensland Reds in Sydney on Saturday.

At ground level, however, the Waratahs match will offer an absorbing duel between incumbent Wallabies halves Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps and their predecessors Quade Cooper and Will Genia.

The once-favoured Reds duo of fly-half Cooper and scrum-half Genia have been superseded by their Waratahs counterparts in the Australia pecking order.

With the Reds already out of the play-offs running, the match may be their last chance to give Michael Cheika, coach of both the Wallabies and the Waratahs, second thoughts.

“I’d say they will be coming here with a lot of motivation. It’s an opportunity for them to get in front of the Australian coach and they will probably see that as an Australian trial,” Daryl Gibson, an assistant coach to Cheika at the Waratahs, told local media.

Cooper was subdued last week as the Reds were thrashed by New Zealand’s visiting Waikato Chiefs, but the week before he was stellar against Western Force on his return from a two-month shoulder injury lay-off.

Starting fly-half Foley was relieved by the mercurial Cooper in the final two Tests of Australia’s season-ending tour of Europe last year and does not want to give his coach any scope for a review of the status quo.

“We don’t want to play a bloke like that back into form,” Foley told local reporters.

Cheika is to name an extended Wallabies squad of 45 after this weekend’s matches and trim down to 35 for the first two Tests of the Rugby Championship, which features New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.

A rule change by the Australian Rugby Union has allowed foreign-based former Wallabies backs Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and flanker George Smith to be eligible for selection.

Cheika said all three players had put their hands up. “So it all comes down to the selection table like everyone else,” Cheika said at Australia’s World Cup shirt launch in Sydney yesterday.

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