Pre-season fixtures confirmed: Tahs to play at Leichhardt

· Super Rugby
by Waratahs Media

The NSW Waratahs have locked in their 2020 Super Rugby pre-season fixtures, facing the Highlanders at Leichhardt Oval on Friday 17 January and the Reds in rural Queensland on Friday 24 January.


Both pre-season fixtures loom as vital for Rob Penney’s side, as they prepare for an unusually early start to the season proper on Saturday 1 February against the Crusaders.


The clash with the Highlanders will see top-flight rugby played in Sydney’s inner-west at one of the city’s most iconic suburban venues.

The Waratahs played a trial in front of a spectacular backdrop. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Waratahs fell just short of reigning Super Rugby champions the Highlanders in a 40-35 trial loss on Friday night.  A 70th minute try to Highlanders captain Ben Smith handed the home side the lead for the third time in a see-sawing match and that score proved the ultimate decider.  Returning Wallabies Bernard Foley and Israel Folau wasted little time in making their presence felt for NSW, one week out from the Super Rugby season proper.  Kurtley Beale had a perfect night in front of goal, kicking seven from seven conversions.  Fullback Folau played just over half the match, showing some positive signs in a tight opening period in which the largest lead was eight points.  Foley was injected later in the match, setting up former All Black Zac Guildford with a critical try midway through the second half.  The lead was yo-yoing in the gripping match, after the Highlanders struck early through Malakai Fekitoa, the first in a hat-trick of tries for the winger.  It was a high-scoring opening half, with five tries between the two sides and just one point separating them at the break.  Waratahs captain Michael Hooper exerted his influence on the early stages of the match, with a quick reply to Fekitoa’s first try and some trademark breakdown dominance.  Two Highlanders penalties off the boot of Lima Sopoaga put the home side in front midway through the first half as they began to settle into the game.  Number eight Jed Holloway finished off a NSW set piece with their second evening, with hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau nabbing a five-pointer in the dying stages of the half to stretch their lead to eight points.  Recent addition Bryce Hegarty made the most of his injection off the bench, scoring a try almost immediately after half-time for the Waratahs, before tries to Waisake Naholo and Fekitoa turned the tables.  The deft attack from Foley handed Guildford a try to snatch back the lead for NSW as the time ticked down but Highlanders captain Smith returned the favour with his 70th minute matchwinner.  Hayden Parker sealed the result for the Highlanders with a penalty in the final minutes.  The win gives the Waratahs a 1-5 record over preseason, with every match going down to the wire.  NSW kicks off its Super Rugby season against the Queensland Reds on Saturday February 27 at Allianz Stadium.

It also sees the continuation of a pre-season tradition dating back to 2014, as both sides face off for the Sir Henry Braddon Cup – currently held by the Highlanders.


Having played in the first ever All Blacks team in 1884, Braddon also went on to play for New South Wales from 1888-1892.


He was captain of New South Wales in 1892 and following his playing career, served as NSW Rugby Union President.


A revered figure in both New South Wales and Otago rugby history, the Cup honours his early contribution to the game on both sides of the Tasman.


The NSW Waratahs second pre-season hit out – announced last month – will be on the road to the Reds, as they head to Country Queensland a week out from their season opener against the Crusaders.


The clash in Dalby will be the first in regional Queensland in more than 10 years, as the Tahs get an early look at their interstate rivals.

Michael Hooper set the tone for his team against the Reds. Photo: Getty Images

NSW Waratahs Assistant, Chris Whitaker said that with only two trial matches both would be important, as a new look squad comes together for the season ahead.


“This will be the first chance that Rob [Penney] will get to see the boys in action after some time spent together in pre-season, and the players will get a chance to put their best foot forward [ahead of Round 1],” Whitaker said.


“With the changeover in the squad [post RWC 2019] there’s good opportunity for a lot of young guys coming through with plenty of positions up for grabs.


“Leichhardt is a sensational ground to play at, it’s one of those old suburban grounds where everyone is close to the action so it makes for great viewing.


“Generally, there’s a lot of ball movement [against the Highlanders], I think both teams want to play with the ball and use it as a good preparation for the Super Rugby season.”


Tickets to the NSW Waratahs pre-season clash with the Highlanders will be available to purchase in late-December.