The Waratah had a mixed bag in his first Premiership outing for Northampton against Saracens.
Livewire scrum half Sarel Pretorius will be the key for the New South Wales Waratahs this Super Rugby season if Friday night’s trial win over Tonga is any indication.
Friday’s match was an odd one. For starters it went for 100 minutes, with a first-string New South Wales side lasting the first 60, then the second string out for the final two 20-minute quarters.
This meant the Tahs struggled for consistency and combinations as the game wore on. They started well, though, against an outclassed opposition, to post a 52-0 win.
But this strange timing structure also proved to be a problem – about half of the 4,063-strong crowd left at the 80-minute third quarter mark, unaware that there were still 20 minutes of play left. They also forget to tell the match officials, as the final quarter almost kicked off without a ref.
The farcical aside, the Tahs showed in the first 30 minutes that they should be competitive this year, and their South African No. 9 will be integral. Pretorius was everywhere in his 50-minute spell, until being taken off as a precaution. He took the line on, hassled in defence and created attacking opportunities.
Not everything he tried worked, but he’s a risk taker, an inventive and smart player who won’t die wondering. Pretorius knows how to find the line – he was Super Rugby’s equal leading try-scorer in 2011 – and this was evident with an opportunistic try in the fourth minute.
Greg Growden wrote recently that New South Wales need an excitement machine with the departure of Kutley Beale. Well, they have it in Sarel Johannes Pretorius. He has a nice step, good hands and can smell a try a mile away.
His battle against Will Genia at Homebush in the Super Rugby opener will be a cracker.
Pretorius was given an early mark, the same as Berrick Barnes who was subbed early with tightness in his groin. Barnes looked good in a limited timeframe, but he and Pretorius will need to be injury-free for the Tahs to challenge at the business end of the season.
Wycliff Paul tested his shoulder on some unlucky Tongans with a few big hits, and of course he will also be praying for an injury-free year. A fit Rob Horne will also be a huge plus for NSW, and he was handy during the trial.
Another turning a few heads was Sydney Uni winger Tom Kingston, who is destined for some big game time with Lachie Tuner and Drew Mitchell unavailable. Kingston was also pulled off the park before the 60 minute mark, as was hooker Damian Fitzpatrick.
Both are expected to be fit to face the Reds along with Barnes.
The best of the rest was Chris Alcock, a second-stringer who scored a powerful try, while Adam Ashley-Cooper was rusty but showed glimpses of his undoubted class.
Two easy trial wins against two depleted Pacific Islander nations was expected and has been achieved, though the quality of the opposition could be questioned. Both Samoa and Tonga were missing their World Cup players, while Australia’s other Super Rugby franchises have been warming up with games against other Super Rugby teams.
Just how ready the Tahs are, and if they can match or improve on 2011’s finals showing, will be revealed next Saturday.
The real fun starts against the defending champions in seven days time, as 130 years of interstate rugby rivalry is celebrated. Bring it on.