Now is the time for the 2011 NSW Waratahs to stand up. An uphill battle with injury has released them from being expected to win. This is when the great teams are at their best.
It is official, at least according to the latest Fox Sports fantasy data:
Team Current injuries Players used
Reds 6 35
Stormers 5 34
Crusaders 6 32
Blues 7 32
Waratahs 12 34
Sharks 1 32
Set out below are the players currently injured and their ranking within their respective teams in brackets. The ranking is based on the Fox Sports fantasy league points system.
The ranking is indicative only as it also includes the effect of long-term injuries. McCaw, Toeava and Mitchell are good examples of this.
The Reds current injuries are Ioane (2), Faingaa (6), Robinson (9), Harris (12), Lucas (17) and Hynes (29).
The Stormers current injuries are Vermeulen (5), Louw (21), Coleman (21), Januarie (25) and Reynecke (34).
The Crusaders current injuries are SBW (1), Dagg (6), Maitland (9), Whitelock (18), Fotuali’I (21) McCaw (23).
The Blues current injuries are Ranger (3), Toeava (5), Haiu (18) and Woodcock (20), Paulo (29), with Mika (33) and Moli (33) injured players who have not played this season.
The Waratahs current injuries are TPN (2), Burgess (7), Mitchell (8), Mowen (11), Kepu (13), Baxter (14), Halangahu (16), McCutcheon (19), Barnes (25) Horne (26) and Kingston (unavailable) and McCaffrey (35, but did not play this season).
The Sharks current injury is Ndungane (18)
Injuries have removed first choice internationals such as Ioane, SBW, Dagg, McCaw, TPN and Mitchell.
This has opened up places for bench and fringe players. The Crusaders replacements for Carter and McCaw, Todd and Berquist have done an excellent job in trying circumstances since the earthquake. The Reds’ Robinson has excelled at 7 and propelled himself into Wallaby calculations.
These injuries have also tested the depth of the squad and then the availability of players from the academies and then the next level down. This is good for rugby. It offers a professional pathway for more players but adds to the teams’ wages bills.
On the surface, the conclusion is that the injury toll will affect the Waratahs the most. That their current injuries have affected the spine of the team at 2, 9, 10 and 15 (reshuffle) is worse news.
The bookmakers have the Waratahs at long odds, $3.60 to the Blues $1.30. This is an accurate reflection of the likely outcome.
However, the odds cannot factor in that, wounded and understaffed, the Waratahs have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Deans is looking for courageous players will true self belief. Friday evening’s game presents every Waratah player with the chance to show the national coach that they possess those two vital characteristics.
With so many injuries, there are as many as nine Waratahs players who are fringe Wallabies players, for whom the moment to impress has come: Turner, Carter, Holmes, Dennis, Mumm, Timani, Douglas, Ryan and from the bench, McKibbin.
Turner is quick and scores tries but fades in and out of games too often. His fullback play is lacking Beale’s confidence and courage to take the line on from kick returns.
Tom Carter’s work-rate and physical game in attack and defence says that he should be challenging Faingaa for a ball carrying centre.
Holmes finally has his moment to show what he can do. As the former U19 World Player of the Year in 2006, he could be the ideal utility player if he makes this game and the series his own.
Dennis and Mumm are both vying for a back row spot, against two of the hardest men to pull on a Wallabies jersey, McCalman and Higinbotham.
Timani, big, tough and mobile, has been a revelation since joining from the Brumbies. Douglas needs to find his 2010 form.
McKibbin is a favourite of mine on the basis of his Shute Shield performances for Easts.
Further, the bulk of this playing group are the group that will represent NSW in the 2012 competition. They carry an enormous challenge to refill the SFS and hence the Waratahs coffers by playing consistent, exciting, entertaining and winning rugby without Beale. Let the 2012 season commence now and send Phil Waugh off with a great finale.
Can they do it? Yes. They have the defence and a very good pack and lineout. Will they do it? Only they will know. One thing is for sure: it will define them, one and all.