Daryl Gibson will hit a survival milestone at the helm of the Waratahs this weekend but victory in Japan will only happen if NSW cut down on “coach killer” errors and penalties, says skipper Michael Hooper.
Gibson and Hooper will both raise the bat for half-centuries against the Sunwolves, with the former marking 50 Super Rugby games as NSW coach and the latter 50 clashes as skipper.
Gibson, who began with NSW as an assistant to Michael Cheika in 2013 and took over in 2016, is the now second longest-serving Waratahs coach behind Ewen McKenzie.
Both pointed to the milestones as evidence of stability at the Waratahs in recent seasons, and somewhat fittingly Gibson named a second round team with only one new face from the team who lost to the Hurricanes in the season opener at Brookvale.
As revealed on Tuesday, Kurtley Beale returns at no.12 and Karmichael Hunt will play at outside centre. Adam Ashley-Cooper has been bracketed with Cam Clark in the no.23 but will need to a post-concussion clearance to line up.
Despite the potential temptation to rest a Wallaby or two against the Sunwolves, who NSW beat convincingly last year, Gibson said he wanted to keep rolling full steam for the trip to Japan.
"At this early stage in the season we are still searching for the best combinations,” Gibson said.
"Part of our thinking was keeping the team as stable as possible, and trying to build those combinations as we build into the season.
"With Karmichael and KB in the middle, we believe we have a nice balance there and we’d like to see how that develops.
"We had played one game so I am really conscious that we get our game going and really build on those combinations and we have limited time to do that.”
Review of the Waratahs’ loss to the Canes threw up two major issues to fix: “stupid” moments of ill-discipline and a “clunky” attack.
"14 penalty count was the wrap up from that penalty count, and avoidable penalties at that,” Hooper said.
"It allowed the Hurricanes just to apply a lot of pressure on us in the back half of the game. We withstood, we withstood but we couldn’t hold out right until the end.”
Gibson added: "There were a number of stupid sort of errors, around individuals and we have talked extensively this week around those. We are building excellent pressure with our defence and letting teams off the hook there.
"We need to be better and that’s one area of the game we will look to improve this week.”
Beale’s arrival will help the Tahs resolve an attack that only scored one try at Brookvale Oval, and often broke down with simple moments of bad execution.
Hooper said a handful of missed last passes and misshaped attack broadly fell under the “coach killers” category but would hopefully be down to the fact many NSW players had not played a trial, and would be better in game two.
There certainly won’t be any complacency heading to Tokyo to take on the Sunwolves, despite the Japanese team missing their resting Test players and having been beaten 45-10 by the Sharks in Singapore in round one.
"I don’t read too much into that scoreline. If you saw the game they were very competitive right throughout, until very late when the score blew out. We know their coaches and what they’re capable of,” Gibson said.
"Last year they boasted the best ruck speed of any of the teams in the comp. They play fast … so part of our job is to slow that all down.”
WARATAHS TEAM vs SUNWOLVES
1 HARRY JOHNSON-HOLMES
2 DAMIEN FITZPATRICK
3 SEKOPE KEPU
4 JED HOLLOWAY
5 ROB SIMMONS
6 NED HANIGAN
7 MICHAEL HOOPER
8 JACK DEMPSEY
9 JAKE GORDON
10 BERNARD FOLEY
11 CURTIS RONA
12 KURTLEY BEALE
13 KARMICHAEL HUNT
14 ALEX NEWSOME
15 ISRAEL FOLAU
16. TOLU LATU
17. RORY O’CONNOR
18. CHRIS TALAKAI
19. LACHLAN SWINTON
20. WILL MILLER
21. MITCH SHORT
22. MACK MASON
23. CAM CLARK/ADAM ASHLEY-COOPER