Wallabies stars will enter the opening round of Super Rugby with no warm-up games under their belt after the Waratahs and Brumbies both left big names out of their final trial in Goulburn.
The Tahs and the ACT face off on Thursday night and though some internationals have been named to play, the two sides will both be without front-line Wallabies stars.
Normal practice usually sees all Wallabies deployed in the last trial before Super Rugby starts, to get up to speed before they start playing for points.
But with the World Cup later this year, state coaches are working with Michael Cheika's program to manage workload.
The Brumbies side, skippered by Christian Lealiifano, will welcome back Folau Faingaa, Pete Samu, Rory Arnold, Henry Speight and Tom Banks but Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa and David Pocock will stay on the sidelines.
The Waratahs have Jack Dempsey, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Ned Hanigan on deck but still have eight Wallabies in civilian clothes: Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Rob Simmons, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau.
The resting policy means Wallabies stars won't play a minute of footy prior to the start of Super Rugby next week, and instead have to rely on contact work at training to get them physically ready for action.
NSW assistant coach Chris Whitaker said he was confident the Wallabies contingent would be physically ready to in round one, despite not playing in the trials.
“The intensity at training, with the load management and things like that, they’ll be ready to go,” Whitaker said.
“There is obviously a contact element (with) introduce to contact sessions we do at training. Each week we increase the amount of contact. By next week it’ll be full whack and 100 per cent contact. They’ll be getting enough contract load in the training sessions, throughout the week, to be ready for the game.”
Compared to other domestic leagues, Super Rugby is still a relative sprint and teams can’t afford a slow start. But Whitaker backed the training and the experience of those Wallabies players to handle a round one drop-in.
“Each player will be different, in how we are going to phase them in with their load management, and where they are positioned,” he said.
“It is a big year, and you don’t want to burn them out too early. But it is also getting them up to speed so they can jump straight in and getting the speed of the game straight away. You can’t afford in this competition to bring someone in and give them two or three games to get up to speed.
“These guys are all experienced players, they have played at Test level, most are more than 50 games if not for the Waratahs, but also the Wallabies.”
The Brumbies named a large squad for the trial against NSW, with a strong run-on XV that will form the bones of their round one team against the Rebels on ....
With Samu set to make his first appearance in Brumbies kit from the bench, back rowers Locky McCaffrey, Tom Cusack and Rob Valetini will be vying for the last spot.
Joe Powell and Lealiifano will link up again, and former Waratah Irae Simone will partner Tevita Kuridrani in the midfield.
Banks has the no.15 jumper sewn up but the battle for backline spots is otherwise intense, with Jordan Jackson-Hope, Tom Wright, Chance Peni, Lausii Taliauli, Toni Pulu, Andy Muirhead, Len Ikitau and Speight all strong contenders.
New Brumbies Murray Douglas, Vunipola Fifita, Jahrome Brown, Wright and Bayley Kuenzle will all get game time too.
The Waratahs, who take on the Hurricanes at Brookvale Oval on Saturday week, have more of an inexperienced outfit given the large list of absentees, which is extended by injuries to Damian Fitzpatrick, Tom Staniforth, Tom Robertson and John Folau. Michael Wells is also still on sevens duty.
Ryan McCauley and Lachie Swinton are two men tipped to push through this year after dominant club form in recent years, and while backline members are more established, they’re all competing heavily for the spots available when the Wallabies’ big weapons return.
Outside centre Lalakai Foketi did well last week but has Curtis Rona and Ashley-Cooper on his back, and wing spots will be fought out between Cam Clark, Alex Newsome, Rona and potentially even Ashley-Cooper.
Karmichael Hunt and Mack Mason will both be out to prove they’re up to the job of covering/challenging Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley in the midfield.
“I think it is a big opportunity for him (Mason) this year,” Whitaker said.
“Obviously with the World Cup and the load-management of certain players in the team, it is going to be a year where we have to use the whole squad.”
The Brumbies host the Waratahs at Workers Club Sports Arena in Goulburn on Thursday at 6.30pm. Gates open 5pm. Live Stream on Brumbies Facebook.
1 Harry Johnson-Holmes
2 Andrew Tuala
3 Shambeckler Vui
4 Jed Holloway
5 Ryan McCauley
6 Lachlan Swinton
7 Will Miller (c)
8 Jack Dempsey
9 Mitch Short
10 Mack Mason
11 Cameron Clark
12 Karmichael Hunt
13 Lalakai Foketi
14 Curtis Rona
15 Alex Newsome
16. JP Sauni
17. Rory O’Connor
18. Chris Talakai
19. Le Roux Roets
20. Ned Hanigan
21. Pat Tafa
22. Jake Gordon
23. Adam Ashley-Cooper
24. Will Harrison
25. Richard Woolf
26. Will Harris
27. Cody Walker
28. Hugh Sinclair
29. Ben Donaldson