Waratahs boss Rob Penney has welcomed back three key players to his side ahead of a must-win Australian derby clash against the Brumbies in Canberra on Sunday.

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Captain Rob Simmons headlined the trio of returnees, with the second rower fighting off an ankle issue to lead his side as they search for just their second win of the campaign.

Joining him in returning to the starting lineup are teenage wing Mark Nawaqanitawase and Wallabies prop Tom Robertson, both of whom have overcome back injuries to make the starting XV.

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The only other change to the run-on side comes at hooker, with Damian Fitzpatrick dislodging incumbent rake Robbie Abel to the bench.

Penney will be hopeful that these changes will improve a disappointing Waratahs outfit, whose worst performance of the year thus far came when they hosted the Chiefs in Wollongong last week.

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A 14-13 half-time lead turned into a 51-14 thrashing at the hands of Warren Gatland’s men, with 38 unanswered points for the visitors consigning the Waratahs to an embarrassing defeat.

“You’ve got two ways of handling it,” Penney said in the wake of his team announcement for this weekend.

“I guess we’re not in a great situation performance-wise so you can either throw the baby out with the bath water and ignore the good things that aren’t being seen but we know are happening and replace a lot of the boys or you can show faith in the group that you’ve been working with intimately and that’s what we’ve decided to do, so persevere.”

With that in mind, Penney remains wary that results need to start changing sooner rather than later if they want to keep their play-off aspirations alive.

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“The boys feel it more than anybody. Us as staff members we get disappointed but the group really cares about their performance and how they’re perceived and the perception isn’t great at the moment.

“We understand why and we’re the only ones that can fix it.

“The players are at the front edge, leading that change.”

Waratahs side to face the Brumbies on Sunday

1. Angus Bell

2. Damien Fitzpatrick

3. Harry Johnson-Holmes

4. Rob Simmons

5. Tom Staniforth

6. Lachie Swinton

7. Michael Hooper

8. Jack Dempsey

9. Mitch Short

10. Will Harrison

11. Mark Nawaqanitawase

12. Karmichael Hunt

13. Alex Newsome

14. Jack Maddocks

15. Kurtley Beale

Reserves:

16. Robbie Abel

17. Tom Robertson

18. Tetera Faulkner

19. Jed Holloway

20. Pat Tafa

21. Michael McDonald

22. Lalakai Foketi

23. James Ramm

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