NSW Waratahs players have backed Brendan McKibbin to retain the starting halfback role ahead of star South African recruit Sarel Pretorius for Saturday’s Super Rugby clash against the Chiefs.
The Waratahs will travel to Hamilton on a high after their pressure-busting 34-30 win over the Sharks and are ready to leave everything on the Waikato Stadium pitch with the bye looming the following week.
Scottish-born McKibbin made the most of his surprise first start since 2009 against the Sharks with a man-of-the-match performance and looks set to keep the role against the Chiefs.
Versatile back Adam Ashley-Cooper said the new-look halves pairing of McKibbin and Berrick Barnes looked effective and hinted he thought the former had done enough to hold his spot.
“Over the past when a player performs well in a starting position, I’m sure he does enough to retain that position,” Ashley-Cooper said.
“We’ll find out (Wednesday) or Thursday what the starting line-up is but the halves did really well.
“McKibbin and Barnes showed a great combination there and that’d be exciting to build on again if they get the opportunity again this week.”
Winger Tom Kingston, who scored the winning try against the Sharks, said the Waratahs were blessed to have options in the No.9 spot.
“I think Kibbo was incredible on the weekend, to score as many points as he did and to lead the team and his passing was extraordinary,” Kingston said.
“And then Sarel, you’ve seen him at training, he’s so energetic … he’s everywhere.
“So to have that energy coming off the bench really offers something and to have those two options is incredible.”
With a welcome week off to follow the clash, Kingston and Ashley-Cooper said it was essential the Waratahs registered back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
But it won’t be easy against a Chiefs outfit flying on the back of three successive wins and freshened up from the bye last week.
“It’s means nothing if we can’t go over to Hamilton and repeat that performance,” said Ashley Cooper, who turned 28 on Tuesday.
“They’re a quality team, with some quality backs.
“The focus for us is not giving them as much space as they deserve.
“With the likes of (Richard) Kahui, Sonny Bill (Williams) and (Aaron) Cruden, it’s a very creative and dangerous backline, so for us it’s about shutting them down.”
Ashley-Cooper described the match against the Sharks as one of the most bruising Super games he had played in.
The Wallabies star suffered a corked arm, dislocated finger and a knock to his knee but said he would be fine to face the Chiefs.
NSW captain Rocky Elsom trained with the squad on Tuesday but is unlikely to be available until after the bye, while Drew Mitchell, Lachie Turner and Dan Vickerman are continuing their rehabilitation from long-term injuries.