TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has resisted resting key Wallabies, naming his first unchanged starting line-up of the season for Saturday night’s crucial Super Rugby showdown with the Jaguares in Sydney.
Jed Holloway returns via the bench from a three-week suspension, replacing lock Tom Staniforth, while Andrew Tuala is the new reserve hooker in place of the banned Tolu Latu.
Gibson must still rest skipper Michael Hooper, playmaker Bernard Foley, fullback Kurtley Beale and prop Sekope Kepu for one match each before the end of the regular season under protocols agreed to help the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign.
But the Waratahs are precariously placed at third in the Australian conference with four rounds remaining and know they can’t afford any more slip-ups in their fight to stay in the finals race.
“We are in the fight for our lives in terms of staying alive in the comp and the conference. This game is incredibly important and we need to pick our best side,” coach Daryl Gibson said on Thursday.
“It’s nice to be able to be consistent. We have named a fairly consistent line up for most of the games in recent weeks and I think that’s really helping us. The team is settling down and knowing their roles well.”
Regarding the players that are still required to sit out matches as part of the Wallabies’ quest for World Cup success, Gibson suggested that rests would come only when the stakes weren’t quite so high.
“They’ll be (rested) somewhere. It’s just a matter of getting us to a point where we remain competitive.
“I have debated the strategy of resting our guys through different games but I have got to play the short game, not the long game.”
Gibson said teammates had accepted Latu’s apology after he was charged with drink-driving just two days out from last week’s win over the Queensland Reds – and then failing to alert Waratahs management.
“He is very apologetic for his behaviour and what that has caused not only to him and his family, but to the team,” Gibson said.
“He made a very heartfelt apology this morning, which was nice.”
Holloway is particularly hungry to get back in the thick of it, knowing he let teammates down when red-carded for elbowing prop Thomas du Toit in the head during last month’s loss to the Sharks.
“He was very remorseful and disappointed that his actions had on the team,” Gibson said.
“And that’s tough to live with as a player. There is zero tolerance to anything around the head, and discipline cost us potentially that game.
“But three weeks off has served him well and he has got over the rib complaint that had been troubling him and he’s come back ready to go.”
The Waratahs are yet to beat the Jaguares, coming up short 28-38 in Buenos Aires last year and getting thumped 27-40 in Sydney in 2017. The Jaguares have also never lost a match in Australia, so the Waratahs will face a tough challenge against the high-flying Argentinians.
Waratahs: Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Karmichael Hunt, Cam Clark, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (c), Lachlan Swinton, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson. Reserves: Andrew Tuala, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Chris Talakai, Jed Holloway, Will Miller, Jake Gordon, Lalakai Foketi, Curtis Rona.
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