Waratahs player Tolu Latu takes part in a training session.
Waratahs player Tolu Latu takes part in a training session.

Scrum's the word for Tahs against Highlanders

RUGBY UNION: There'll be plenty of interest in how Israel Folau performs against Ben Smith, and if Nick Phipps can outfox Aaron Smith, but the Waratahs' hopes of upsetting the Highlanders on Saturday hinge on the forward battle, particularly at scrum time.

Alongside the Chiefs, the Highlanders have the best scrum in Super Rugby, with a remarkable 97% win rate on their own feed.

In contrast, the Waratahs rank 13th out of 18 teams with a success rate of 89%.

So it's not complex to work out where the Highlanders will target NSW in Dunedin.

"Their forwards are really good. They're underrated. They win a lot of set-piece ball for them. They put pressure in defence on line-outs and at scrum time," NSW hooker Tolu Latu said.

"We're looking at ways we can benefit from our attack and the way they defend in set-piece time.

"At line-out time they always get up. They always do well to get up even if it's a half jump or half lift. So for hookers it presents a picture that they're always getting up.

"You have to make every throw perfect.

"Then around scrum time they work well as an eight. They get a good second shove on opposition ball."

Latu (89%) and Highlanders rival Liam Coltman (88%) have near-identical success rates for line-out throws, so NSW will really be tested in the scrums.

Added to that, Highlanders goal-kicker Marty Banks is the most accurate in the competition, landing 44 goals from 48 attempts this season, including all 12 penalty shots.

With NSW giving away numerous early penalties in several games this season, first-half discipline will be crucial to its chances.

The Highlanders also boast the tournament's top tackler, openside flanker Dillon Hunt (119).

The Kiwi side has won eight games in a row while the Tahs have just four wins all season.

In 18 trans-Tasman games in 2017, no Australian side has beaten a New Zealand opponent.