NSW coach Michael Foley has issued a raft of changes in a last-ditch effort to rescue the injury-plagued Waratahs' season as the side prepares to play its third game in 12 days while shaking off jet lag.
While the fitness of hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau is still being monitored following his concussion a fortnight ago, he is a strong chance of playing. But the big changes come in the playmaking ranks, with livewires Brendan McKibbin and Bernard Foley to return at No.9 and No.15 respectively as Michael Foley looks for flair in attack to negate the Stormers' brutal defence in Cape Town early on Sunday morning (NZT).
''There were some tough decisions to be made but we felt Bernard played very well at 15 before he was injured and Daniel Halangahu being able to come on at 10 or 15 gives us a few options and versatility,'' Michael Foley said.
''Adam Ashley-Cooper gives us that versatility, too, as does Tom Kingston - and Berrick [Barnes]. There will be some changes but a lot of that has to do with the amount of game time some of the guys have played, and having others return provides us with some flexibility.''
Barnes will remain at five-eighth and again have Mr Fix-It Adam Ashley-Cooper at inside centre. And after being replaced by returning captain Rocky Elsom last week, breakaway Dave Dennis earns a reprieve and will start at No 8 in place of Wycliff Palu, who will play from the bench, with Kane Douglas.
''At this stage of the year there are some guys who have played a lot of rugby and some other guys who have showed some fairly good form off the bench,'' coach Foley said. ''So it's the same as we did in the Brumbies game with Dean Mumm, who started on the bench coming back into the team, and Dave Dennis, who was benched last week, also coming back into the team. At this stage, there is no one in severe doubt, other than 'Taf' at hooker. It's a case of not wanting to take any risks and unless he is 100 per cent he won't be playing.''
Sitaleki Timani and Dean Mumm will start in the second row for what shapes as being the most physical game of the Waratahs' season.
''I think from the Stormers perspective, the one thing you know about them is that their defence is the best in the competition and they use their kicking game to set that defence up,'' Foley said. ''They kick the ball into your half and use their defence to force you into error. They also have a very good goal-kicker, and if they are out of range they kick for the sideline and maul. That's pretty much their game and they are very, very patient with their attacking kicking and try and force you to play a lot of phases without momentum in your own half.''
While the Waratahs would play a physical game, the counter-attacking of the likes of Bernard Foley, Kingston, Rob Horne and Ashley-Cooper would be vital. ''There will definitely be opportunities to use the ball and negate that defence and that's something we know,'' Michael Foley said.
''You also have to be smart about what you do there. We've learnt from watching the Crusaders and Reds win games against the Stormers that attacking with ball in hand as well as contestable kicks will be vital.''
Waratahs: Bernard Foley, Tom Kingston, Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Atieli Pakalani, Berrick Barnes, Brendan McKibbin, Dave Dennis, Chris Alcock, Rocky Elsom (capt), Sitaleki Timani, Dean Mumm, Sekope Kepu, John Ulugia/Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Josh Mann-Rea, Jeremy Tilse, Kane Douglas, Jono Jenkins, Wycliff Palu, Sarel Pretorius, Daniel Halangahu
- Sydney Morning Herald
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