Reds and Tahs primed for derby forward battle

UPDATED: The Reds will be targeting the Waratahs pack on Saturday night and NSW assistant coach Simon Cron would expect nothing less from their interstate rivals.

NSW’s under pressure scrum will face its sternest test of 2019 thus far when they take on the likes of JP Smith and Taniela Tupou.

The Reds were outpointed in the scrum against the Crusaders and Cron is expecting the bruised pack to come at the Waratahs with even more fire because of it.

“We’ve got no doubts they’ll try and have a go at all set piece areas – mauling, scrums,” he said.

“There’s some key things there that the Crusaders pointed out around the Reds scrum and…the Crusaders scrum is pretty outstanding, it’s one of the best in the world, got a lot of All Blacks in that one.

“The key thing for us is to make sure we stick to what we’ve got to do at scrum time and we go through that process and don’t rush it. So, the boys will go into the game knowing what they’ve got to do.”

The threadbare stocks at the Waratahs have been boosted by an unorthodox loan deal with Leicester to bring back Tatafu Polota-Nau but Cron said his charges knew they had to prove themselves at the SCG.

“I mean the big thing for us is respect is earned, not given,” he said.

“That’s something from our forward pack, we’ve got to earn the respect of other teams and the key thing for us is from kick-off, we’ve got to go at it.

“There’s a couple of learnings every week for us and I think as a coach and as a forward pack, you always look at what’s critical and there was a couple of really critical things that some boys took learnings from from the Sunwolves so as a result of that they will only get better.

They will learn little things and we’ve had a lot of meetings this week around what we learned from that game and my expectation now is we get better.”

The Reds have made no secret of their intent to attack the Waratahs in their forwards with the selection of JP Smith and Scott Higginbotham to start only reinforcing that mentality.

The pair returned from injury off the bench in the Reds’ loss to the Crusaders last week but has been named in the starting side to face the Waratahs in a move defence coach Peter Ryan said would bolster experience as Queensland attempts to arrest a nine-game losing streak to their southern rivals.

“I think for us it just adds that little bit of experience against a quality team in the Waratahs,” Ryan said.

“So I think genuinely it’s just the experience side of things that will pick up.”

“I wouldn’t openly say that we’re trying to take them on in the forwards but in reality, that’s what we will do.

“We’ll take them on in the forwards because our scrum is a dominant scrum.” 

While the pack conceded penalties to the Crusaders last week, coach Brad Thorn hoped his men had learnt plenty from measuring themselves against the competition benchmark.

“We always knew it was going to be a good battle there, which, for some of our players … is a great experience,” Thorn said.

“I thought we had little wins as well and there were some even battles there.

“It’s good for our lads to see where things are at because we want to dominate in that area, so you want to take on the good packs.”

Whatever dominance they have up front though, the Reds will need to be able to defend well and stopping the early flow of points is a focus.

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“I think we’ve started the last two games that we’ve played at a really high intensity but unfortunately in both those games we let in points early,” Ryan said.

“That’s a real detriment and it’s something that we want to quell this week going into the Waratahs, that’s for certain.

“They have scoring potential across the field, they have wonderful kickers and a wonderful kicking game and on the back of that, guys like Israel Folau, who can get through, catch the ball high and either drop it back to someone behind or score the tries themselves.

“So we’re certainly not taking what the Waratahs can do lightly by any standard and I think for us to do well, our defence has to be genuinely on song.”

The Reds defence remains a work in progress but Ryan is pleased with the improvements he has seen since arriving at Ballymore in the off-season.

“The playing group has really taken ownership of a lot of the stuff that I’ve put in place,” said Ryan, one of only a handful of players to have won NRL and Super Rugby titles.

“You can call them rules, regulations or laws amongst our team and I think that their ownership of what I’m putting forward and we’re trying to achieve, they’re taking ownership of that.

“You can clearly see in games that they’re working for each other, so if someone misses a tackle – which we’ve had a few of – there’s always someone there to turn up to make that tackle.

“And I see that as the difference between winning games and losing games.

“And if we get a little better at certain other aspects of our game, then we’ll stop the most tries that we can.

“We can always score points, it’s just a matter of stopping the opposition scoring as many as us.”

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