The Waratahs’ unenviably difficult task of trying to qualify for the Super Rugby play-offs have gotten that much harder as head coach Daryl Gibson has followed through on a promise to rest five of his key players for this week’s must-win clash against the Highlanders in Invercargill.
Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu and Rob Simmons are all absent from Gibson’s match day squad for the Waratahs’ final regular season match, which they need to win by a bonus point margin to keep their slim post-season hopes alive.
The Wallabies quintet have been sidelined as part of the resting policy of Australian internationals in Super Rugby, and have been replaced by first-five Mack Mason, wing Cam Clark, flanker Will Miller, prop Harry Johnson-Holmes and lock Ned Hanigan, respectively.
“I’ve been very consistent by putting out pretty much the same team every week and these guys are really energised and enthusiastic about going and fighting and representing the team … Mack’s one of those guys,” Gibson said.
“We need to give him that opportunity so he can find out exactly what the level is and experience that. I fully expect him to front up and be on for the game.”
The elevation of Miller and Johnson-Holmes from off the bench into the starting lineup allows for Rory O’Connor and Ryan McCauley to come into the reserves, while the only other change in the starting lineup is at blindside flanker, where Hugh Sinclair will make his first start for the club.
Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu was ineligible for selection as he is due to appear in court on Friday regarding a drink driving charge, so he is replaced on the pine by Andrew Tuala, who joins Shambeckler Vui, Jack Dempsey and Tautalatasi Tasi as the other changes among the reserves.
In the absence of Hooper from the starting lineup, departing veteran Nick Phipps will captain the side from halfback in what will likely be his last game for the Waratahs.
Waratahs team to play the Highlanders: 1. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 3. Tom Robertson, 4. Ned Hanigan, 5. Tom Staniforth, 6. Hugh Sinclair, 7. Will Miller, 8. Michael Wells, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Mack Mason, 11. Curtis Rona, 12. Lalakai Foketi, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14. Cam Clark, 15. Alex Newsome.
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