Waratahs’ big gamble for Sunwolves clash
THE Waratahs are set to take a huge gamble by resting key stars Michael Hooper, Bernard Foley and Adam Ashley-Cooper for Friday's match against the last-placed Sunwolves.
Under the Wallabies' rest policy, Australia's top Test players are expected to stand down for two Super Rugby games this season, and the game against the Sunwolves in Newcastle presents an ideal opportunity to field some rookies.
However, the Sunwolves, while bottom of the table, are a dangerous team that has narrowly lost a number of games this year, including the one-point defeat to NSW in Tokyo one month ago.
Hooper is the captain of the side while Foley runs the backline and Ashley-Cooper has been an important defensive co-ordinator.
The potential absence of all three will put NSW's "blue wall" defence to the test against a side renowned for off-the-cuff, attacking rugby stemming from offloads in contact.
After last weekend's stunning win over the Crusaders, the Tahs have jumped to the top of the Australian conference and risk not building on that moment with a reshuffled line-up.
The Wallabies' rest policy is making it difficult for all Australian Super coaches to rotate their teams while seeking consistent performances.
If the changes go ahead, it will mean the Tahs have not fielded the same backline in successive games so far in 2019.
Under the rest policy to prepare for Australia's World Cup campaign starting September, the Wallabies' busiest players - including Hooper and Foley - must stand down for two Super games, while others who play less regular internationals must miss one match.
Neither Hooper nor Foley has missed a match thus far, and with NSW given tough finish to the year they need to get a match off their list quickly.
Michael Wells looms as the natural replacement for Hooper in the backrow alongside Ned Hanigan and Jack Dempsey, while Mack Mason is the back-up option for Foley.
If Ashley-Cooper is also rested, NSW could use a new midfield combination of Kurtley Beale and Karmichael Hunt.
The constant chopping and changing of players is counter-productive to developing set combinations, and winger Cameron Clark said coach Daryl Gibson had given no indication yet as to when the resting would cease to build a settled team for a potential finals run.
"[There] hasn't been much indication about it," Clark said. "We've got these next two games [against Sunwolves and Blues] leading into a bye so I'm not sure if he'll look to cement a backline post-the bye, so all we can do is put our best performance on the park and hopefully he sticks with us.
"That's the situation we're in with the squad we've got. We've got a lot of great outside backs so a lot of competition for spots, which is always a good thing so I'm sure it's a good headache for Gibbo and the coaching staff to have.
"Unfortunately for us, you're not cemented in the spot all the time. That's what we can do at training, just keep pushing each week and hopefully get a spot on the weekend."