The Waratahs backline picture is becoming clearer but NSW coach Daryl Gibson says they’re facing a race against the clock to test combinations fully.
With flyhalf Bryce Hegarty added to the squad this week, the Waratahs have a specialist flyhalf for the first time this pre-season, a role that utility Kurtley Beale has largely filled in January.
The recruitment of Hegarty will allow Gibson the freedom to play Beale where he feels he is best suited, in what is set to be a somewhat experimental year for their attackers.
Starting 10 Bernard Foley is set to return in the next fortnight after finishing his Japanese season.
Gibson has repeatedly indicated his keenness for Israel Folau to move into outside centre but the usual fullback is unlikely to be available until the final trial, just a week before the Super Rugby season begins.
“With Israel due back in the last trial against the highlanders, it’s going to give us limited preparation,” he said.
“Really I want to see what develops in the next three weeks with all our combinations running and who’s really putting their hands up and saying ‘Pick me’,” he said.
Gibson is confident Folau is ready for a switch into the midfield, buoyed by the superstar’s enthusiasm to make the move..
“Israel's very keen to play there,” he said.
“Wouldn’t be doing that if a player wasn’t keen to try a new position and I think he’d be very good there.
“He’s seen the game develop over the last three years and you’ve got to remember he came from league as a centre, (it’s) his natural position and where he’d grown up is playing in that position
“He’s had the luxury of sitting back and playing fullback and seeing the game and learning the game of Rugby Union and he’s now seen, ‘Hey I think I can do that’.
“I’m not going to be pressed hard and fast into that he’s going to play 13 but certainly it’s an option for him.”
Foley’s return is also an unknown element for the Waratahs, with his workload set to be managed closely in a year where he will barely have a break from Rugby.
Gibson said ideally they would be able to nurse Foley through the season but a call would not be made until the 26-year-old arrived back at training.
“I think definitely we’re going to have to manage him very well, his workload,” he said.
“Bearing in mind the Wallabies play 15 Tests (this year),” he said.
“Every team goes through its challenges and ours are the amount of games that a person’s playing.
“(When) he rocks up here and we see what sort of condition he’s in, we’ll make an assessment.”