Hanigan to miss Rebels clash as Waratahs mull Folau replacement

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Waratahs will be without in-form forward Ned Hanigan for this weekend's crunch clash with the Rebels, leaving Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson with another key selection to mull this week.

Hanigan suffered a medial ligament injury against the Blues a fortnight ago and  initially the Waratahs thought the bye week would allow him enough time to recover.

The 24-year-old sat out training on Monday, set to miss this weekend's clash against the Rebels and he is unlikely to be fit for their round 11 match against the Sharks in Parramatta either.

Hanigan's absence compounds the headache Gibson faces in replacing Israel Folau for the clash after the fullback's controversial social media posts.

However the off-field process unfolds for Folau and Rugby Australia, he will not be playing for the Waratahs this weekend after being stood down until further notice.

Folau has played fullback almost exclusively this season, barring one game on the wing, and has been in vintage try-scoring form.

Kurtley Beale would shape as the most likely replacement having been shifted to fullback even with Folau in the side earlier this season.

Beale didn't train on Monday, absent through illness, but is expected to be fit to take on the Rebels.

If Beale were to stay at inside centre, his preferred spot, on Saturday night, there are still a number of possible options to move into that 15 spot.

Karmichael Hunt could be in line to replace Israel Folau. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyYoungster Alex Newsome played at fullback when Folau was injured midway through the 2018 season while Karmichael Hunt also carved out a solid Super Rugby stint in Queensland playing mainly in the no. 15.

Gibson named veteran utility Adam Ashley-Cooper as another possible option to slot in there but the picture will become clearer as the week progresses.

"We’ve got a lot of part-timers there, obviously Karmichael’s had experience there, Alex (Newsome) has, Adam (Ashley-Cooper)," he said.

"Probably none of them would say that’s their preferred position and or their  strongest position, so everyone we stitch together will be a part-time."

Gibson said he had addressed the team on Monday morning and their focus was squarely on Saturday's crunch clash against the Rebels.

"One thing that the team is very keen on is getting on, getting on the grass and preparing for a match against the current conference leaders, for us, that’s very important," he said.

The Waratahs were able to put aside Folau's polarising views last season amid another social media furore and Gibson said this latest piece of adversity could help them.

"Yeah absolutely," he said.

"We’ve got to galvanize, pull together and really step up. I think it’s a great opportunity.

"During these times a team either does that, they either pull together or they fall apart, and I know the character of the men in our side and that’s what we’re looking for."

Waratahs captain Michael Hooper said he had a simple equation to get the team back on the same page going into Saturday's match.

Waratahs captain Michael Hooper at training on Monday. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley"It's sport , first of all we've got a game coming up in six days' time so your focus is moving into that," he said.

"Secondly, it’s about understanding what  your core values are and what the values of your team are and one of our three is love, on and off the field."

The Waratahs have the chance to close the gap on the Rebels at the top of the Australian conference.

NSW currently sits seven points behind Melbourne after the Rebels' shock loss to the Stormers in Melbourne and a victory on Saturday could narrow that to at four, or even three points.

Gibson said he was planning on playing a full-strength team for the clash after resting four Wallabies in the past two games, leading into their bye.

The remainder of the squad trained, including Israel's younger brother John, who is on an extended squad contract for this season, trained as normal.

The Waratahs take on the Rebels on Saturday April 20 at the SCG, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.