Relief for Waratahs as Kepu declared fit for Japan, AAC in doubt

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

The Waratahs have dodged a bullet with veteran prop Sekope Kepu declared available for their trip to play the Sunwolves in Japan on Saturday.

Another veteran  is under a fitness cloud, however, with centre Adam Ashley-Cooper recovering from a head knock suffered in the Waratahs’ first-round loss to the Hurricanes.

The loss of AAC would be softened by the return of Kurtley Beale to active duty this week but Kepu would have been much harder man to replace given the Tahs’ threadbare depth in the front row.

Kepu copped a knock to the throat and came off in the second half at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.

Already missing Tom Robertson and injured tight head Shambeckler Vui, leaving Kepu at home would have meant a front row with one-cap rookie Chris Talakai starting and another club player called up to the bench.

But Waratahs assistant coach Steve Tandy said on Monday that Kepu had pulled up well from the Canes clash and the neck blow, and would travel with the team to Tokyo on Wednesday.

“I think he is good to go,” Tandy said.

“AAC is going through return to play concussion protocols but after that, pretty good (on the injury front).”

Tandy, a former head coach of the Ospreys who coached part-time with NSW last year, has taken on a full-time role as defence coach in 2019.

The Welshman was reasonably happy with the performance of the Waratahs’ defence in their 20-19 loss but was quick to point out they lost, and said there was much to work on.

“It was a decent start point for us defensively," he said.

"We had to defend a lot of sets. Obviously discipline is one thing we have to look at. We conceded too many soft penalties and gave the Hurricanes too much field position,” he said.

“But I think the way the boys fronted up and had to defend for long periods, they did that pretty well.

“It is a work in progress, it was a decent start but ultimately we lost the game, so we are bitterly disappointed with that, and it is something we need to keep building.”

The Sunwolves were thumped 45-10 by the Sharks in Singapore at the weekend but Tandy said the Japanese team, even without their resting Test stars, are a threatening opponent.

Asked about how to react to the unpredictable Sunwolves throwing the ball around “willy nilly”, Tandy said: “Willy nilly is not giving enough respect, the way the Sunwolves play.“

“I know it was 45-10 on the scoreboard but they had some opportunities to score more points, they were 10-3 up,” he continued.

"They’re really lively, they do play and if a couple of things stuck and we are not on the money, they will score points.”