No Eden Park last stand for Waugh
NSW Waratahs warrior Phil Waugh hasn’t given any thought to Friday night’s sudden-death Super Rugby playoff being his last stand.
Neither has the likely farewell of their inspirational captain even been mentioned by a battled-scarred NSW camp which is displaying genuine confidence of producing a huge boilover at Eden Park on Friday night.
Without nine regular starters, it would be a win for the ages if the Waratahs can continue Waugh’s 13-year career another week by overcoming the Blues.
Making the task tougher is forecast storms and rain; conditions the home side’s more experienced forward pack, which is near full strength, will revel in.
But Waugh isn’t treating it as his 132nd and last Super game, one he expects will be more like a Test match.
“I guess it’s one of those things I’ll reflect on if it is but I’m confident that it won’t be,” he told AAP.
“I’m not thinking about that but more about the job at hand and going out and winning the game.
“We know that tomorrow night will be a ferocious battle but the blokes won’t die wondering.”
Giving the Waratahs faith is their admirable ability to roll with the punches this season, with bench players regularly stepping up and filling the void of injured stars.
Once again they will be without Test players Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Wycliff Palu, Drew Mitchell, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne and Luke Burgess, the latest to be sidelined by a broken hand.
Added to that is regular pack members Ben Mowen and Al Baxter also stranded on the long injury list.
Coach Chris Hickey was again forced to ring five changes on Thursday but was unfazed about the disruptions, describing it as “situation normal”.
“We’ve handled this since day one of the competition and the players are used to it,” Hickey said.
“It doesn’t affect their psyche. The players are confident in the blokes coming in. People have stepped up all season.”
This time around it must be Burgess’s replacement, France-bound Luke Holmes, to assert his authority at the ruck base, while reserve front-rowers Paddy Ryan and John Ulugia have to stand up to the powerful Blues scrum.
Hickey recognised that it was a backs-to-the-wall rearguard tailor-made for Waugh’s renowned leadership.
“Phil thrives in those situations and enjoys those challenges and leads the team really well through those periods of adversity.”
Hickey has brought lock Kane Douglas straight back from a two-week suspension, looking at the silver-lining of the ban to freshen up the second-rower to bolster the size and mettle of his pack.
Holmes has his chance after five frustrating years of failing to live up to his billing as “the next big thing” but it could also be his last game for NSW after linking with a French club.
Hickey suggested his try-scoring intuition and attacking skills could prove game-breakers.
“He’s probably one of the best support players in Australian rugby, he’s got a canny ability to be in the right place at the right time,” he said.© AAP 2013
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