Beale set to come off bench against Hurricanes

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman in Japan

The recruitment of Karmichael Hunt is paying dividends for the Waratahs already with the veteran set to start ahead of Kurtley Beale in Saturday's season opener.

Beale is likely to be eased back into Super Rugby action against the Hurricanes at Brookvale Oval after sitting out all the Tahs' trials, along with other Wallabies teammates.

Hunt was signed from Queensland to allow Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson the option of managing Beale's workload, after the Wallabies star played 31 games last year; including almost every minute of every NSW game.

The dual international hasn't played in Super Rugby since July 2017 but is battle-hardened after played at 12 in both of the Waratahs trial matches, teaming up with Lalakai Foketi and Adam Ashley-Cooper in the centres.

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said Hunt's arrival had allowed them to consider resting their top line stars from the get go.

“That's been the luxury that the have and the whole purpose of recruiting someone like Karmichael to give us that flexibility and the opportunity to rest and rotate and do all those things to get the best out of our squad,” he said.

“It's allowed that flexibility to be able to do that but we're still finalising our team for Saturday.”

Hunt and Ashley-Cooper combined for just 10 minutes in Thursday’s trial against the Brumbies but Gibson said he had seen enough of their partnership to be comfortable playing them together.

“I've been really happy with their progress,” he said.

“Adam getting 40 minutes out at the Brumbies, showed the calmness and composure he'll bring to our backline.

“Both of them are excellent defenders, both really thrive on that side of the ball.

“We know with the Hurricanes through Laumape and Proctor we're going to have to be very good in that area."

Hooker Tolu Latu is another Wallaby who could play off the bench on Saturday night as the Waratahs look to shore up their front row depth.

Wallabies tighthead Sekope Kepu is likely to return to the team against the Hurricanes but an injury for his deputy Shambeckler Vui has forced the Waratahs to call up Sydney Uni prop Chris Talakai.

Latu and Talakai have history together, having packed down for Sydney Uni in recent years in the Shute Shield and Gibson said he was keen to keep Latu and Talakai together as a combination.

“Talakai’s lost 10kgs, came in 125 and now 115. He's really done the work, tried to change himself and make that step," he said.

“He will get a real opportunity to get a taste of that. I think there's positions in our club where we know the depth isn't as strong.

“They've got a pretty good connection there, Shute Shield last year the Sydney Uni scrum performed very well particularly in finals so we'll be leaning on that connection to make sure we can compete well in that area.”

Halfback Nick Phipps is also set to miss the first Super Rugby two games with a calf injury suffered in Wallabies camp last month.

It’s the second year in a row Phipps has had a delayed start to the year with a calf issue, opening the door for Jake Gordon to start in round one.

“He's working his way back to full fitness. We'll see him in the next two to three weeks, back to full fitness and back for selection.

“Nick's an incredibly competitive customer, doesn't like being out for any period of time and so he's working hard to make sure he's back to full fitness.”

The Waratahs take on the Hurricanes on Saturday February 16 at Brookvale Oval, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO. Buy tickets here.