Head Coach Ewen McKenzie has announced an experienced line-up for the HSBC Waratahs Super 14 season opener against the Hurricanes this Saturday at the Sydney Football Stadium.
“We’ve named an all-Wallaby front row, however we’ve also got some youth in the backline so we’ve got a good mix across the paddock,” McKenzie told the NSWRU Media unit.
“There are a lot of up-and-comers pushing really hard for spots in the 22 and the starting XV, which creates a good environment of competition within positions.”
Phil Waugh will captain the team which also fields a number of debutants in the Waratahs’ first competition match to be played under the new Experimental Law Variations (ELVs).
New recruit Timana Tahu will make his Super Rugby debut from the wing after being selected in the starting XV, while speedster Alfi Mafi has been named as a reserve after some impressive trial form.
Inside back Tom Carter has seven state caps to his name dating back to 2004, however he too will get his first chance at Super 14 level after being named at inside centre.
Reserve scrumhalf Luke Burgess is set to make his NSW debut on Saturday, having already appeared twice for the Brumbies.
McKenzie said he was excited by the talent throughout the squad, particularly the experience within the forward pack going into the first match of the season.
“Although the new ELVs will definitely result in some more opportunities for the backs, the game can still be won and lost in the forwards and we’ve got one of the most experienced packs in the competition,” said McKenzie.
“In Tatafu Polota-Nau and Benn Robinson we have two world-class front rowers who are forced to come on from the bench which shows the depth we have up front.”
McKenzie added that while combinations within the backline were still raw, the talent at their disposal is full of potential.
“In the trials we saw guys like Timana [Tahu], Kurtley [Beale] and Lachie Turner show some real class and maturity, which is rare in players who have been at this level for such a short period of time,” he said.
“Add to that the experience of [Lote] Tuqiri, [Brett] Sheehan and [Ben] Jacobs and we certainly have a side capable of laying on some points.
“Having said that, the Hurricanes have averaged 39 points over their three trial matches, so the key will be doing the job in defence, and I’m confident we’ve got the guys for the job.”
Waratahs: 1. Matt Dunning, 2. Adam Freier, 3. Al Baxter, 4. Dean Mumm, 5. Dan Vickerman, 6. Rocky Elsom, 7. Phil Waugh [c], 8. Wycliff Palu, 9. Brett Sheehan, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Lote Tuqiri, 12. Tom Carter^, 13. Ben Jacobs, 14. Timana Tahu*^, 15. Lachie Turner.
Replacements: 16. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17. Benn Robinson, 18. Will Caldwell, 19. Beau Robinson, 20. Luke Burgess*, 21. Sam Harris, 22. Alfi Mafi*^.
* NSW Debut
^ Super Rugby Debut