The Waratahs' season has suffered an early blow with playmaker Berrick Barnes likely to miss the first few rounds of the Super Rugby season.
Barnes hurt his knee in a NSW training session with Sydney University on Tuesday and will miss the side's final trial match against the Crusaders at Allianz Stadium next week.
Coach Michael Cheika said on Thursday he thought the Wallabies back would be ready for the Waratahs' season opener against the Reds on February 23.
But backs coach Daryl Gibson on Friday said Barnes had strained his posterior cruciate ligament and would likely miss ''the first few rounds''.
The news is a blow for Barnes, who was an important part of the Wallabies successful spring tour to Europe after his recovery from a punctured lung.
He has looked impressive in training throughout this week and said on Monday he was hoping for a strong season with the Waratahs, and that he had put his hand up for selection at No. 10 or No. 12.
''Berrick can play a number of positions and has shown that he's very adept at a number and so he's obviously a candidate for that fly-half position,'' said Gibson, who did not travel with the squad to Auckland. ''It's unfortunate he's sustained that knee injury, he'll be unlikely to be involved in the first few rounds.''
Bernard Foley appears the obvious starting choice for Cheika at five-eighth.
New recruit Ben Volavola, who was a star for Southern Districts in their march to the Shute Shield grand final last year, also stands to benefit from Barnes's absence.
''It's going to put [Barnes] a bit behind the eight-ball because all the other lads will have had a practice match and put their hands up for a spot,'' Cheika said.
''Berrick still hasn't learnt the fact that he's a distributor and he's got to pass the ball and not run into 10 forwards at once, which he chose to do for some reason.
''It's part of him you like as a player because he's a tough guy and he wants to do as much as he possibly can, so you can't complain about it when he actually does it. In a game, you want him to be that type of character, it's his personality to get stuck in there.''
The Waratahs will get a tough trial next week when the Crusaders travel to Sydney with returning All Blacks Dan Carter, Israel Dagg, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock.
Gibson, who has been an assistant coach at the Crusaders for the past four seasons, said he was preparing the side for a game played with the Canterbury side's trademark pace and width. ''I would definitely look for the Crusaders to spread the ball and really use the width of the field,'' he said.
Waratahs v Crusaders at Allianz Stadium on Thursday, February 14. Kick-off 7.30pm. Tickets from ticketek.com.au priced at $20 for adults, $10 for children and $40 for families. Free entry to Waratahs members with valid membership card.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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