The Waratahs have been bolstered by the return of fullback Max Jorgensen and centre Lalakai Foketi for a blockbuster match against the Brumbies this weekend but will be without firebrand back-rower Lachie Swinton due to injury.
After a morale-sapping 24-14 loss to the Chiefs on Friday, the Waratahs are desperate to bounce back before a bye next week.
After high hopes of a top-four finish, the Waratahs are second last on the ladder and the worst-performing Australian team.
Another sub-par performance in Canberra would put the Waratahs at one win from six starts.
After sitting out the Chiefs match with a sore shoulder, 18-year-old Jorgensen has been named at fullback in place of Ben Dowling.
Jorgensen scored two tries against the Brumbies in round one and will be wanting to press his claims once again in front of Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who names the first official Australian squad of his second coming on Sunday morning.
Max Jorgensen in action for the Waratahs.Credit:Getty
According to Opta Stats, Jorgensen has made one line break for every three carries this season, which is the most frequent of any player who has at least 10 carries this year.
Foketi is also another boost for NSW coach Darren Coleman after a shoulder injury. He will line up at No.12 alongside outside-centre Izaia Perese, with Joey Walton set to be squeezed onto the bench.
Meanwhile, the Waratahs haven’t named Swinton, instead picking Taleni Seu at No.6 in a back row also featuring Michael Hooper and Will Harris. The Waratahs say Swinton is nursing a neck injury and should be fit to play against the Force after the bye.
Hooper has been cleared to play his sixth straight match, despite initial agreements from Super Rugby franchises, when Dave Rennie was still in charge of the Wallabies, that no senior player could feature in more than five consecutive games.
There will be extra motivation for the Waratahs this week after Brumbies chairman Matt Nobbs fired a shot their way by declaring “Tah Week” was all but dead.
The Brumbies have won 10 straight games against the Waratahs since July 2018.
“If they’re good enough to beat us, I’ll meet everyone [who is a travelling NSW fan] in the bar at the Meninga stand and shout them all a beer,” Nobbs said.
“We used to get thousands of them come down the highway and the fact that we got 13 this time last year out of the Sydney metro area just showed you where things were at.
“This game will make or break the Waratahs’ season, I would have thought. They’re sitting in the bottom four, not the top four, as they crowed about at the start of the year.”
Meanwhile, the Brumbies have welcomed back their big guns after being rested for last week’s loss to the Crusaders.
James Slipper, Rob Valetini, Pete Samu, Nic White, and Tom Wright all come back into the starting XV, as well as Wallabies outside-centre Len Ikitau.
White has got the nod over Ryan Lonergan as the Brumbies’ starting halfback.
(1-15) James Slipper, Lachlan Lonergan, Allan Alaalatoa, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Valetini, Rory Scott, Pete Samu, Nic White, Noah Lolesio, Corey Toole, Tamati Tua, Len Ikitau, Andy Muirhead, Tom Wright.
Bench: Rhys Van Nek, Fred Kaihea, Sefo Kautai, Sam Thomson, Jahrome Brown, Ryan Lonergan, Jack Debreczeni, Ben O’Donnell.
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