Forty-eight hours of training time means it’s mostly business-as-usual but the Waratahs are focussed on getting their attack to finally fire against the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.
With a Wallabies camp occupying many players from both NSW and the ACT until Wednesday, both sides are only able to train twice as a team before the big derby clash at GIO Stadium.
Consistency of tactics and troops is a natural consequence, but while his starting line-up is almost unchanged Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson did take the chance to rotate Alex Newsome onto a wing and Curtis Rona out.
Halfback Nick Phipps will make a return from the bench after a calf injury picked up the first Wallabies camp three months ago, and an ankle injury to Will Miller sees Ryan McAuley come onto the pine as well. Cam Clark also joins the bench.
The Waratahs’ defence was impressively staunch against the Reds but even armed with a stacked all-Wallaby backline, the Tahs’ attack didn’t feature in a dour clash at the SCG.
The Tahs had only 33 per cent possession, and tactically kicking away a fair bit of ball behind Queensland contributed to that stat.
But NSW’s attack also hasn’t reached its potential so far in all three games this season.
Only one try was scored against the Hurricanes at Brookvale Oval and the Sunwolves game was almost lost due to the team chasing space too hard with “Harlem Globetrotter” rugby.
"We are three games in and have so much growth left in us,” Gibson said.
"As much as we have had two wins and a very close loss, we still feel like we are not where we want to be. We have plenty left in us, particularly in our attack and really getting all the skillsets we have in our team performing.”
Gibson said players had spoken of a “greasy ball” affecting handling at the SCG but it appears kicking less ball away will be part of the plan in Canberra.
Responding to criticism of Bernard Foley’s form, Gibson said that lack of quality time on the ball made it hard to make judgements.
"We haven’t really had enough possession to analyse and say 'hey this area of the game is not quite right',” Gibson said.
"First and foremost we want to get our hands back on the ball and really start to build pressure and be patient when do we have it.”
Rona has done nothing wrong this season but with Newsome, Clark and even John Folau in the squad, Gibson said he wanted to give all of them a run.
Newsome, a Country NSW-raised speedster who was recruited back from the Force in 2017, is rated by Gibson as the hardest-working back in NSW colours and has been consistent in delivering results from his time with the ball.
The 24-year-old scored a match-sealing try with his first touch at the SCG and Newsome’s long-range run set up a try against the Brumbies last year in Canberra from a set-piece move.
Newsome said the sluggish start to the year, attack-wise, was down to the very fact it is stacked with so many Wallabies - who were on leave over most of the summer.
"A few of the guys coming late back into the program from the Wallabies and it takes a few games to get that cohesiveness back with our ball plays and everything,” Newsome said.
"So I think it's just a natural thing. You saw last year it took us a while before we got that attacking flair down pat.
"Against the Sunwolves we probably did fall into that trap of playing like them, who like to play a lot off turnover ball, and we recognised that and we knew coming up against the Reds, who are such a physical side and have a big pack and a few big ball carriers, that we had to focus on that and not get too loose in our attack. Otherwise we'd pay for it.
"With our backs, we want to get our hands on the ball as much as possible (against the Brumbies).
"The Waratahs typically play a very attacking style of rugby so as much as possible we want to keep that game plan.”
The absence of David Pocock (calf) and his breakdown pestilence would be a bonus for the Waratahs in getting quick ball to launch their attack.
Diplomatically, Gibson said it would disappointing for Pocock to miss the game and not go head-to-head with Michael Hooper.
The Waratahs say they’re not reading too much into the Brumbies’ recent back-to-back losses, and are instead looking at the last time they played at home and thumped the Chiefs.
The Brumbies have openly declared they’re trying to play with “no fear” and attack more, but have turned back the clock and used the rolling maul heavily for their tries.
Gibson said “that’s part of their DNA” and the lack of prep time this week only strengthens the sense they’ll turn to it as a embedded strength at every opportunity on Friday.
"We know the challenge that the Brumbies are going to present, the areas they are very strong in and we are training towards those things,” Gibson said.
"While also trying to balance that and in the areas we want to excel, we are continually working on.
"I guess we both have that limited prep time so you are limited in what you can change and get going. I would imagine the Brumbies will be very strong in areas they have been excelling in all season and we are trying.”
The Brumbies host the Waratahs on Friday night at GIO Stadium, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo and RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.
IN: Alex Newsome, Nick Phipps
OUT: Curtis Rona, Mitch Short
Waratahs to face Brumbies
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. Alex Newsome
12. Karmichael Hunt
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper
14. Israel Folau
15. Kurtley Beale
16. Tatafu Polota-Nau
17. Rory O'Connor
18. Chris Talakai
19. Ryan McCauley
20. Lachlan Swinton
21. Nick Phipps
22. Mack Mason
23. Cam Clark