WARATAHS halfback Auvasa Falealii has terrorised his Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union opponents since arriving on the scene this season.
The Kiwi import’s strength, running game and rugby nous helped crush University 68-24 to maintain the Tahs’ flawless start to the season last week.
Today the Tahs face their biggest test to date against the second-placed Wanderers in the top-of-the-table match at No.2 Sportsground.
Wanderers coach Todd Louden said the key to silencing the Tahs No. 9 would be through his forwards.
“If our forwards are good and defending well and controlling possession, then that’s going to limit his opportunity somewhat,” Louden said.
“At the end of the day, if we focus on just one player, we’re going to struggle, because from what I’m led to believe they have threats elsewhere, too.
“Their No. 8 [Pala Palupe] is a good player and Hayden Pedersen is a good player, and they have a fair back three, so it’s the forwards where it’ll be won or lost.
“Wanderers forwards have never been rated, but we’re very workmanlike, and if we’re at our best tomorrow, we’re in with a really good chance.”
Pedersen, in particular, has been unstoppable. In seven games the Waratahs player-coach has scored 16 tries.
An intriguing battle today will be Pedersen lining up against Two Blues outside centre Lewie Catt.
Catt’s confidence will be high after a successful Cockatoos campaign, which led him to being the only Newcastle player named in the Combined Country preliminary squad to face the British and Irish Lions.
“Hayden has a wealth of experience as well,” Louden said. “Lewie is still learning the game in a lot of ways.
“He’s a deep thinker of the game, so I think that match-up will be key.”
Pedersen is also expecting a torrid time against Catt.
“It’ll be a good battle,” Pedersen said. “We’re different players as he’s a big guy, a crash man, and I’m more little and nippy.”
The Tahs have scored on average 50 points per match this season, many coming through their domination in the backline from broken play.
However, Pedersen has not been entirely satisfied with the Waratahs’ forward pack and has sensed weakness.
“We need some improvement in the key areas of our clean-out, and obviously getting stronger around the fringes,” he said.
“They have a quality front row and [are] strong throughout the pack. So I think we’ve been playing well, but we can still improve in that area.”