The Waratahs will be without former sevens star Cam Clark for the Brisbane Global Tens but coach Daryl Gibson is confident his squad can adapt to a new format, and overcome sweltering heat, in what he believes will be a successful weekend.
Clark, who was a member of the Australian sevens team in Rio, did not feature for the Waratahs in last week’s trial match in Mudgee because of an ankle injury.
The 23-year-old was touch and go for the inaugural Tens event, however Gibson has erred on the side of caution and is hopeful Clark will be right for the Waratahs’ final pre-season trial against the Highlanders at Brookvale Oval next Thursday.
Aside from Clark, Gibson has another two recent sevens weapons in Con Foley and Pat McCutcheon who Waratahs players have “leaned on” this week to gain a better of understanding of how to attack the embryonic Tens format.
Gibson has picked a squad, excluding his rested Wallabies representatives, to win the Tens rather than one to go through the motions of another pre-season hit-out.
The Waratahs, like a number of other teams, are not sure what to expect from Tens, but Gibson is adamant there will be a degree of flexibility about the way NSW play.
“Scrums and lineouts will be far more important than sevens,” Gibson said. “We still need some specialists there, so you still are going to get the game for all sizes because you need props and you need tall people to win lineouts. It’s good in the fact that you can be far more flexible and that’s why we’ve picked players that are more suited to the Tens format than the specialist games of XVs.
“There are a number of ways you can approach Tens. You can play more like XVs style, so play more set-piece, or you play more sevens. Certainly the way we’re approaching it is going more like XVs.
“We’ve been doing a lot of training for that format and we’re going to lean on that experience and incorporate our philosophies on the game in a slightly different format.”
The Waratahs have drawn Japanese franchise Panasonic Wild Knights and the Chiefs on Saturday before a match-up with the Rebels on Sunday ahead of a potential quarter-final.
One man the Waratahs will be looking to is Israel Folau, who will relish the open surrounds of Suncorp Stadium with fewer players on the field.
Folau has scored just three tries in his last 26 Tests, compared to 17 in his first 26 games for the Wallabies.
Teams have worked out how to combat his attacking flair but with bigger gaps in defensive lines this weekend, Gibson anticipates Folau will be let off the leash.
“It’s come at a good time for him,” Gibson said. “We’ll be winding up next week with that trial which he’ll feature in and getting back to rugby. He had a good break in the off-season so he’s been looking excellent at training. He’s looking forward to getting out there and playing in a different format and something different and a new challenge.”
Waratahs marquee signing Lote Tuqiri has had a number of runs ahead of his highly anticipated return to competitive rugby, with Gibson describing his inclusion as “a real buzz”.
“He’s still in good nick, he’s 40-plus and doing something that comes as second nature to him,” Gibson said. “He’s been really excellent around the team. [It is] exactly what we want; someone who’s been there and done that.”
The Waratahs battled through scorching temperatures in Mudgee last week in their trial against the Brumbies and the Tens is expected to be just as uncomfortable with the mercury tipped to reach 39 degrees on Sunday.
Gibson said Sydney’s relentless heat has put his side in better condition than others from New Zealand and further abroad.
“We’ve suffered through a pretty sweltering summer and we’ve trained all through that,” Gibson said. “We feel like we’re well acclimatised to it. There are other teams that are going to hurt more than us in the heat.”
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