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Turnover king Liam Gill could be key in Sydney
Richard Kelly
February 26, 2014

New South Wales Waratahs host Queensland Reds in the first Bob Templeton Cup match of the season, and we have a tremendous contest in prospect after each side made a winning start to their Super Rugby campaign in round two. We showcase the battle between two sets of key trios who should have a strong influence on this game.

The Waratahs put Western Force to the sword last weekend, putting on a real show for the Sydney faithful as they dominated possession. Their back-row of Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis and, in particular, Wycliff Palu were in imperious form as the Tahs dismantled the Perth outfit, the trio enjoying plenty of work in attack rather than defence. Palu gained 60 metres from 12 carries, but he really caught the eye in beating a number of defenders and with his handling skills - coming up with four offloads and setting up one of the Tahs six tries. The Tahs were not worked hard in defence, and their opener should stand them in good stead for what promises to be a tougher task this weekend.

The Reds' hard-fought win over the Brumbies will have done more to battle-harden the Queenslanders ahead of their trip to Sydney, but undoubtedly it will have drained more energy. In a terrific away performance, the Reds did not dictate possession and spent long periods defending - and this is reflected in the way their back-rowers' figures shape up. Liam Gill and Ed Quirk were rock solid in defence, while Jake Schatz put in a good shift in addition to taking on far more ball-carrying than his counterparts; also keep an eye on his offloading this weekend. Gill was perhaps most impressive in winning four turnovers for his side from 15 tackles.

While there were stark contrasts in the playing style of these two sides last week, they both enjoyed similar fortunes. That, coupled with the Waratahs playing on home soil, may suggest the Reds will once again surrender the ball and absorb the home side's advances.

We have also showcased the stats from the creative trios behind the scrum, the respective scrum-halves, fly-halves and inside centres who took to the field last weekend.

The Waratahs' outside backs were rampant in their opener, testament to the work of their forwards and half-backs. The likes of Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps got their hands on the ball regularly and were able to release their colleagues around the edges. Do not underestimate their honest and faultless work rate in defence, either.

The Reds, while not in possession of the ball that often last week, proved yet again that their Wallabies halves can cause damage to any defence with just the smallest of bit of quality ball. Will Genia's offloads can cause damage; and though he wasn't at it last week, Quade Cooper is perhaps the best offloader of a ball in world rugby. If these two are presented with just an ounce of quality ball, they are likely to punish their opponents again.

Follow @OptaJonny, the official Twitter page for Opta's coverage of rugby union and rugby league, and @OptaJason, the official Twitter page for Opta Sports' coverage of sport in Australia and New Zealand.

The top ESPNfootytips Super Rugby tipster at the end of the home and away season wins $A2000, with the runner-up claiming $A1000. We also have a pair of Gold Class movie tickets for each weekly winner.

Best of all you and a mate could be heading off to Game II of the Bledisloe Cup series between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Auckland. The prize includes flight, accommodation, transfers and match tickets. Simply enter your tips WEEKLY to make another entry in the competition.

© Opta Stats for ESPNscrum

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