Just one Waratahs player will keep his backline spot this weekend, as coach Daryl Gibson swung the axe for their Rebels clash.
Six of the Waratahs’ starting backline have been shuffled to the bench, out of the 23 or into another post, including Jake Gordon starting over Nick Phipps and Israel Folau’s outside centre experiment ending three weeks early.
Coach Daryl Gibson had said he would give Folau until round seven to prove himself at outside centre, but has pushed him to the back three weeks early.
Folau’s move puts Andrew Kellaway onto the wing, with Rob Horne taking the 13 jumper, having played in the midfield in the past.
Gibson admitted a new-look backline would be a kind of ‘trial and error’, but their record necessitated change.
“We’re in a bit of a hole now, we’ve got to get ourselves out of that and also we’re searching for that combination that really clicks,” he said.
“At the moment, we felt that backline and that configuration wasn’t working for us and so we decided to make a change, put Israel back to his position as fullback and put Rob Horne back to outside centre where he’s more than accustomed to. So, a few changes and see how that goes.
Folau has played minimal part in training this week, but Gibson said he and Sekope Kepu, who suffered a concussion against the Brumbies, were both ready to play.
David Horwitz moves into the inside spot, replacing Irae Simone, who drops out of the 23 after treatment on a knee issue and a brutal introduction to Super Rugby.
Gordon earns his first Super Rugby start, with scrumhalf Phipps relegated to the bench to face his former team, a move Gibson said would hopefully spark his competitive fire.
‘Nick’s disappointed but I also think Nick’s realised he’s playing below his usual standards and he’s very determined to get back, he’s a very competitive person, he’s a champion player and they don’t’ stay down for long, so expect him to be back in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
In a boost for the back line, Bernard Foley returns for his first game of 2017, after battling concussion symptoms following a head knock in a February 16 trial against the Highlanders.
“I’ve missed it the last couple of weeks, especially just being able to run around and play with the guys and really excited to get out here and play Friday night,” he said.
“It’s been frustrating sitting on the sidelines so just looking forward to that.”
Foley backed Phipps to use his demotion as motivation.
“Nick’s a good friend of mine and he’s very disappointed in his performances but also not having any chance to rectify it this weekend but knowing Nick and his personality he’ll be doing everything possible to get back in that starting outfit and that’s exactly what we want in the team and in everyone in this squad,” he said.
“They want that hunger to be in that starting XV and keep that drive and determination to get back there and that improves the whole squad mentality and improves the quality of every player in this team.
Ned Hanigan slots into the No.6 spot in place of the injured Jack Dempsey, in the only change to the Waratahs’ forward pack.
The Waratahs take on the Rebels on Friday night, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via radio on RUGBY.com.au.
Waratahs to take on the Rebels
IN: Bernard Foley, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Cam Clark, Damien Fitzpatrick,
OUT: Jack Dempsey, Irae Simone, Bryce Hegarty, Hugh Roach
1. Tom Robertson
2. Tolu Latu
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Dean Mumm
5. Will Skelton
6. Ned Hanigan
7. Michael Hooper ©
8. Jed Holloway
9. Jake Gordon
10. Bernard Foley
11. Andrew Kellaway
12. David Horwitz
13. Rob Horne
14. Reece Robinson
15. Israel Folau
16. Damien Fitzpatrick
17. Paddy Ryan
18. David Lolohea
19. David McDuling
20. Michael Wells
21. Nick Phipps
22. Cam Clark
23. Taqele Naiyaravoro
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