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Two Wallabies set to return for Waratahs against Highlanders

By AAP
Michael Hooper.(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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Test stars Michael Hooper and Ned Hanigan are set to line up against the Highlanders on Sunday as the Waratahs look to balance player fatigue with winning momentum ahead of the Super Rugby Pacific finals.

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With two rounds before the playoffs, the Waratahs face the long trek to Dunedin to take on the resurgent Highlanders, with stopovers in Christchurch and Auckland part of the gruelling trip.

Assistant coach Chris Whitaker said they would look to rest some of their forwards, who have had a big workload.

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The key to stopping the Blues.
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The key to stopping the Blues.

He said having two veteran forwards available, with Wallabies skipper Hooper returning from a head knock and Hanigan from a season in Japan, had eased their selection dilemma.

“We still want to go into the quarter-finals with momentum,” Whitaker said on Tuesday.

“The beauty about the team this year is that we’ve got legitimate guys who are competing for spots. For example this week, you leave out Jed Holloway, you bring in Ned Hanigan, and you leave out Charlie Gamble and you bring in Michael Hooper.

“You’re not actually altering the team that much; we’re still going over with the mentality of winning this match but we’re also trying to freshen up after what has been a long year for us. We’re trying to fight two battles on one front.”

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A certain change for the Waratahs is at outside centre, with in-form Izaia Perese suffering a knee injury in last round’s four-point loss to the Hurricanes.

Whitaker said they were hopeful the Wallabies back could return for their quarter-final in two weeks’ time.

Fullback Alex Newsome is one possibility to shift to 13 but Triston Reilly or Welsh veteran Jamie Roberts are more likely given how well Newsome is playing at the back.

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Whitaker said there was a lot to like about their performance against the Hurricanes, where they dominated early but were over-run.

He said the Highlanders, who had climbed into eighth spot on the back of a 61-10 thrashing of Western Force, were a danger team.

“They played good footy at the start of the year but lost a couple of games on the bell,” said the former NSW halfback.

“They’re definitely dangerous and obviously with (halfback) Aaron Smith steering them around the park.

“An Australian team hasn’t won at Forsyth Barr Stadium since 2014 so we know it’s going to be a big battle, that’s for sure.”

Meanwhile, veteran prop Paddy Ryan is cleared for selection after he received a warning from the Sanzaar judiciary following his red card for a dangerous tackle.

– Melissa Woods

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