Rocky Elsom and Timana Tahu last night made giant steps to being critical cogs in the Waratahs’ charge towards the Super 14 finals.
While the rest of the Waratahs were training at the Sydney Football Stadium, Elsom and Tahu headed to Centennial Park. Just before sunset they underwent a gruelling one-hour fitness test in front of team doctor Sharron Flahive, performance coach Peter McDonald and trainer Charlie Higgins. There will be several more tests today – and Elsom will have another scan on his quadriceps strain – but there seems little doubt the pair will be part of the 26-man squad that heads to South Africa next week, and may even be involved in Saturday night’s match against the Sharks.
Greg Growden writes for RugbyHeaven Aus that there is a slight possibility Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie will consider both for the bench against the Sharks – Elsom in particular – to counter their strong reserve contingent. If not, both are expected to return to the squad for the two games in the Republic against the Bulls and Stormers. What was most encouraging about Elsom’s and Tahu’s fitness test at Mackay Oval was that both ran freely, while their stamina was well above average. They were involved in beep tests and tackle drills, and each seemed surprised at how demanding the session was.
If the Waratahs, who have won their past four matches, were struggling, the pair could have easily been fast-tracked. However, with Dean Mumm performing well since being moved from the second row into Elsom’s blindside breakaway spot, and novice Rob Horne showing he is a player of enormous potential in the centres, McKenzie can wait until he is convinced they are fully fit. McKenzie is also reassured that he will have two fresh and dynamic match-breakers returning in time for the finals – which the Waratahs should make if they can win two of their last four matches.
As McKenzie awaited the fitness test results, he stressed it was crucial to be cautious.
“One step at a time … the tour to South Africa next week is very important,” he said yesterday. “But at the moment we are probably talking about things happening a little quicker [with Elsom and Tahu] than I first thought.
“It’s good this is all happening quicker, but at the same time I don’t want to rush in there and have a repeat situation. I want to make sure everything is ticked and that they are really ready to go, because the next four weeks are going to be very tough.
“You have to understand that Timana has been out for five weeks and Rocky for three. So we have developed our game a fair bit since they last played, and just on the intellectual side, there’s a lot of catching up to do. That all takes a little bit of time.”
This approach also avoids the difficult situation of having to drop in-form players.
“I have been very happy with the guys who have filled in,” McKenzie said. “Robert Horne has stepped up very well and has done a good job. He’s played against some good opponents and handled himself OK, as has Dean Mumm on the side of the scrum.”
While not surprised that the Sharks were beaten by the Brumbies on Saturday night, McKenzie said it would take a conclusive performance to beat South Africa’s most impressive province. He also knows the Sharks will be cantankerous after ill-discipline cost them dearly at Canberra Stadium.
“The Sharks play the game differently to a lot of other teams,” McKenzie said. “They kick a lot, and get a lot of their front-foot football from that, rather than necessarily running into people.
“They are also very physical, as shown against the Brumbies, where up front they gave them a bit of a touch-up. So you have to be able to stand up.”
Those standing up will probably be the same 15 who beat the Lions last Saturday night.Tweet