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Picking a starting Waratahs team for round one of Super Rugby Pacific

By Jack O'Rourke
Photos: Getty Images / Photosport

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The Waratahs come into Super Rugby Pacific off the back of a challenging year. The team went without a win in 2021, but their fortunes are already looking up as they welcome a highly-respected coach in Darren Coleman into the fold and bring back a host of Super Rugby experience from overseas. 

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Ned Hanigan and Jed Holloway will return to the Waratahs after stints in Japanese rugby, and Wallabies captain Michael Hooper is expected to feature this season following a sabbatical from Super Rugby last year. 

Before the season kicks off, we have selected what we believe will be the starting lineup for the Waratahs come round one of Super Rugby Pacific.

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While pre-season form and fitness may still yet play a part in who is picked come the beginning of the campaign, these selections are largely based on the availability and squad status of players at the time of writing.

1. Angus Bell

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

One of the youngest in the squad at just 21 years of age, the young bull has proven himself to excellent scrummager already. Despite a long season away with the Wallabies, Bell has been keen to dig in at Waratahs HQ. He brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the Waratahs front row. 

2. Tom Horton 

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Horton brings a point of difference to the hooking role for the Waratahs. He is agile and dynamic in contrast to the traditional roles of scrummaging and line-out throwing. Locking down that starting spot will be Horton’s main priority, with competition from season campaigner Dave Porecki and former LA Giltini Mahe Vailanu. 

3. Harry Johnson-Holmes 

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The red-headed country boy with the voice of an angel, Harry should be assured of a start at tighthead prop. He has quickly become a reliable scrummager and is well-respected within the playing group. There are few elder statesmen waiting in the wings, but Johnson-Holmes’ reliability and durability make him an asset in the front row.

4. Jed Holloway 

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
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Holloway returns to the Waratahs after an acrimonious departure to Japan with Toyota Verblitz. He has come back to play for his home state with a renewed sense of purpose after buying into Darren Coleman’s vision for the team. His preferred position is No 8, but he is resigned to the fact he will find himself at lock for most of the season. 

5. Geoff Cridge 

(Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

There are big wraps on Cridge coming from New Zealand. Cridge made his Super Rugby debut for the Hurricanes under Chris Boyd, and after an impressive season for Hawke’s Bay in 2021 picked up a contract with the Waratahs. Cridge stands at just over 2 metres and fits all the requirements the Tahs have been looking for in a tighthead lock, adding further strength to the team’s depth in the second row.

6. Lachie Swinton 

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The hulking blindside flanker has benefitted from a season away with the Wallabies and has come back hungrier than ever to give Super Rugby his all. His discipline continues to be a thorn in the coach’s side, but his upsides far outweigh the negatives.  

7. Carlo Tizzano  

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The heir apparent at the Waratahs for the No 7 jersey, Tizzano was given a chance to impress last year in the absence of Michael Hooper, and he didn’t disappoint. The bulky flanker has an abrasive style that is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he goes hard on the ball. He has expressed his desire to make the famous seven his own and will have to prove himself again when Hooper returns later in the season. 

8. Will Harris  

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
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Harris is one to look out for in 2022, and he cuts an imposing figure as a number eight. He is rangy and athletic with silky hands, but craves the forward battle in the tight stuff. He has had to bide his time in the Waratahs system but now is set for a big year. 

9. Jake Gordon 

(Photo by David Neilson/Getty Images)

The fact that Jake Gordon has been retained as Waratahs skipper for 2022 after guiding his side through their worst season in history speaks volumes about how highly-regarded Gordon is within the organisation. A natural leader and a genuine game manager, Gordon has the ability to change a game with his pace from the base of the ruck. His voice will be invaluable to the younger playmakers in the squad this year. 

10. Ben Donaldson 

(Photo by David Neilson/Getty Images)

With Will Harrison sustaining a shoulder injury in a preseason trial, Donaldson has all but won the race for the starting flyhalf spot at the Waratahs. Donaldson has been compared to Stephen Larkham due to his calm demeanour under pressure and the ability to shoot through a hole in the defence with deceptive pace. Expect ‘Donno’ to still be battling Tane Edmed to hold on to his starting jersey through the season. 

11. James Turner 

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Jimmy the Jet has been lighting it up in the preseason trials and may have just done enough to book a spot on the wing. He recently went viral on social media after his athletic finish in the corner for a try. He had a debut to forget last year, but Turner can find his way to the try line. Mark Nawaqanitawase has bulked up over the off-season, and if he has addressed his defensive frailties, then he could be the next in line. 

12. Lalakai Foketi 

(AAP Image/David Neilson)

The 27-year old inside centre is an underrated piece of the Waratahs backline, acting as a distributor for his outside backs and relieving pressure on his playmakers inside him. His efforts last year caught the eye of Dave Rennie and made his debut for the Wallabies against Wales. Foketi has to take his game to the next level for the Waratahs to start racking up wins. 

13. Izaia Perese

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

A wrecking ball in the midfield, if Izaia Perese can stay fit, he will be a central piece of the Waratahs attack. There were some great early signs in his return to Super Rugby last year, including a dominant performance against the Crusaders in Trans-Tasman. Earning a Wallabies debut has lit a fire in Izzy’s belly, and could be a contender for centre of the year. 

14. Dylan Pietsch

(Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Australian Sevens star Dylan Pietsch is keen to impress in the sky blue of New South Wales. He’s a fast, skilful ball runner with a Sevens motor an ability to make crucial stops in defence. There are a number of outside backs nipping at his heels, with the likes of Tevita Funa, James Ramm and Triston Reilly all impressing during the trials. This spot is up for grabs.

15. Alex Newsome

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

All reports coming out of Waratahs HQ is that the fullback spot is far from settled, with a number of players have been training there. Alex Newsome has been playing all the trials at fullback, though, and seems most suited to the position at this stage. He has bulked up since joining the Waratahs and his reliability under the high ball make him a good option at the back.

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