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Waratahs star reveals competitive edge at training ahead of new season

By Jack O'Rourke
(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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Positions are still up for grabs as the NSW Waratahs prepare for their final trial before the Super Rugby season begins. The Waratahs will travel to Roma in central Queensland to take on the Reds on Saturday night.

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The Waratahs can expect plenty of well-meaning banter from a passionate country crowd, but thankfully they welcome back a host of Wallabies this week who are keen to contribute in preseason despite a long time away on Spring Tour.

It makes this match-up a preview of what we can expect from both teams during the season, with both squads at nearly full-strength.

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The likes of Angus Bell, Harry Johnson-Holmes and Lachie Swinton will start in the forward pack, while Wallabies debutants Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Perese will form a powerful centre combination in the backs.

Welsh import Jamie Roberts has been named on the bench for his first run in the sky blue jersey. 

Ben Donaldson has seemingly won the race to the starting flyhalf gig and will partner Waratahs captain Jake Gordon in the halves.

A shoulder injury to Will Harrison in the Brumbies trial has opened the door for Donaldson, who gets the nod over fellow playmaker Tane Edmed.

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Vice-captain Alex Newsome says Donaldson has earned the nickname ‘Bernie’ after Wallabies legend Stephen Larkham as he mirrors his calm demeanour and ability to spot a hole in the defence. 

“Benny is such a calm, level-headed guy. It’s good to have him in that playmaking seat. He’s got great skills,” Newsome said.

“We used to call him ‘Bernie’ Larkham when he first came on the scene. He’s just got that calmness at ten. His speed is often underestimated. He’s got a graceful running style and he can just slide through a gap.”

Newsome is locked in his own battle for a starting spot despite being named fullback for the Waratahs previous two trial games.

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There is plenty of talent amongst the team’s outside backs and Newsome revealed there have been a number of players auditioning for fullback and wing spots throughout the preseason.

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“I have been training there [at fullback] all this week. There are a few of us that have been in that position. 

“It’s a position I would like to play, for sure. There’s a few of us with Rammy [James Ramm] and Marky Mark [Nawaqanitawase] that have all been training there. Everyone’s been putting their hand up.

“For me, it’s a position that I have played coming through the pathways and I have played a Super game there as well. It’s a great position. You have a bit of a licence to roam in attack.

“There’s a lot of competition for spots in the back three. There’s a lot of boys who you might not have seen previously play, who have played well in the trials whether it be on the wing or at fullback.

“Right across the squad, there have been additions in every position that have just added to our depth. Darren [Coleman] has quite a direct style and he will challenge individuals on their performance every day in training.

“The competition has been heating up more and more the closer we get the beginning of the round one.”

That competition extends to the Waratahs back row, with players eager to prove themselves before the return of Wallabies flankers Ned Hanigan and Michael Hooper.

Lachie Swinton has chosen to forgo the preseason R&R afforded to returning Wallabies in order to get a jump on the competition and prepare his body for the rigours of Super Rugby Pacific. 

“Nothing is set in stone, and to have that competition in the squad is healthy. I’m not taking it lightly, I know there’s going to be competition even in my spot. I’m excited about that,” he said.

“We are slowly building and we have had a couple of good hit-outs over the past few weeks. To top it off against the Reds – I think the game will be played at full noise.”

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