Sam Norton-Knight will return to the Waratahs from injury as the starting fullback against the Cheetahs on Friday despite playing only 40 minutes of club rugby in five months.
The utility back ran in the No.15 slot for the entire session of Waratahs training yesterday afternoon, with Lachlan Turner moving to the wing and Alfi Mafi running with the reserves.
Rupert Guinness writes for RugbyHeaven that Ben Jacobs, who hurt his left knee in Friday’s loss to the Crusaders, ran at outside-centre and remains in the selection frame for the team to be named tomorrow, as does back Daniel Halangahu, whose return from injury follows one Junior Waratahs game.
Yesterday, NSW also ran a new front-row combination made up of Benn Robinson at loose-head, Tatafu Polota-Nau as hooker and last week’s tight-head Matt Dunning. Second-rower Dan Vickerman sat out the 90-minute session with a sore shoulder, but is still available to play the round-seven Super 14 clash at the SFS on Friday night.
Yesterday’s session was a fiery affair, with forwards Will Caldwell and David Lyons trading left hooks during an opposed drill.
But it ended with Norton-Knight clearly poised to be named as the NSW No.15 tomorrow for the seventh-placed Waratahs game against the Cheetahs, who are in 13th position. However, Norton-Knight is not worried about having played only 40 minutes in an internal trial with Northern Suburbs a fortnight ago since hurting his ankle in the Australian Rugby Championship finals last October and then, after recovering, injuring his thigh in January.
“Since I was a young bugger, I have always had a good base level of fitness,” he said yesterday. “I am not carrying a lot of weight around, and that hasn’t changed in the months I have had off.
“I am also confident I can add a bit of balance to the side where there has been a lot of pressure on 9s and 10s. Hopefully, I can get in there and balance that equation out a bit.”
Norton-Knight’s kicking game is an added asset, even if his injuries have limited his opportunities to work on that area of his game. “But that is something that is generally there,” he said. “I will have to call upon that if I get a chance.”
Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie is confident Norton-Knight and fellow comeback player Halangahu have enough condition to play.
“[They have played] not a lot of football,” McKenzie said. “But what do you do? You can’t create games this time of the year. Club footy starts this week. We just have to take what we can get.
“We have trained them hard. We have a searching return-to-train, return-to-play program. They have done all that, got through it successfully … are out there training successfully.”
The Waratahs are not just wary of the speed and the try-scoring ability the Cheetahs have on their wings, with speedsters Jongi Nokwe and Eddie Fredericks – but also of their tight game.
“They have this ability to play side to side. And they have some great ball-running forwards they used in the midfield,” McKenzie said. “They have some structure in their game and play with a bit of expression. They are difficult. They can play you in a tight game and the next minute they can play side to side.”
However, NSW halfback Brett Sheehan, who will be between the forwards and back-line play and set up NSW’s one try against the Crusaders last Friday, is ready for both games.
“They are a dangerous team. We can’t take it lightly … and we are not,” Sheehan said.Tweet