Folau back at fullback as one player keeps starting position in Tahs back line

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13 Apr 2019

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 18: Israel Folau of the Waratahs makes a break during the round four Super Rugby match between the Waratahs and the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium on March 18, 2017 in Sydney, . (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) Photo: Getty ImagesDaryl Gibson says the time has come to blow up the Waratahs back line, with Israel Folau shifting to fullback and Nick Phipps dropped to the bench in what he admits is the biggest wielding of the axe in his time as NSW head coach.
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As reported by Fairfax Media, Gibson dropped a bombshell before his side’s match against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park by making six changes from a possible seven positions in the backs.

It appears mounting pressure has finally got to Gibson as he tries to get his team out of a rut with just one win to its name from four starts.

“Given the situation we’re in ??? we had to make a change,” he said. “We feel at the moment the back line we have in that combination is not clicking and so we decided to make those changes and see if we can search for a better outcome.”

Folau will shift from outside-centre to fullback; a move Gibson had said he wouldn’t consider until after the Waratahs had had their bye in round eight.

The Waratahs boss is adamant Folau will be a better player for his time at outside-centre.

“I don’t view it as a failure,” Gibson said. “I think his last two games he’s really got into it. We felt we needed to change something.

“The opportunity he’s had to play up front has made him a better player I believe. He’s got more tools in his kitbag I believe, in terms of seeing the game.

“Hopefully, we can get the right back line that is really humming and clicking.”

Andrew Kellaway has been moved from fullback to the wing, with Reece Robinson joining him on the other edge.

Rob Horne returns to No.13, a position Gibson believes will fit like an “old glove” for the Waratahs veteran, while David Horwitz assumes the No.12 jersey.

Bernard Foley has finally been cleared of concussion and will line up next to a new halfback in Jake Gordon, who comes in for the dumped Phipps.

Gibson said Phipps, who started in six of his 13 Wallabies Tests last year, was upset at the news but has backed him to bounce back and have a profound impact from the bench.

“Nick’s a champion competitor, he took it hard,” Gibson said. “I know he’ll be back. He’s probably doubly determined to get back to the form we’re more accustomed to.

“None of our three halfbacks have set the world on fire in terms of nailing down that spot. Nick, by his own admission, is playing below his high standards, so for Jake it’s an opportunity. He’s a promising young player.”

Irae Simone has also been punted from the back line, with Horwitz getting the nod, but a problematic knee may have made the decision somewhat easier for Waratahs officials.

Horwitz is no stranger to inside-centre, having started there in the first three Waratahs matches last year and against the Rebels in Sydney.

Meanwhile, Ned Hanigan’s selection at blindside breakaway in place of the injured jack Dempsey is the only change in the Waratahs forward pack.

“He’s quite an abrasive character, throws himself about, excellent ball carry and good lineout ability,” said Gibson of Hanigan. “I just felt with that combination we’re running out with him in the back row, we’ll leave our tight five as it is.”

Gibson said prop Sekope Kepu was “100 per cent” to play despite being concussed in the Waratahs’ 28-12 loss to the Brumbies on Saturday.

On the bench, hooker Damien Fitzpatrick will get his first chance in Waratahs colours since returning from a stint in France.

Fitzpatrick has taken Hugh Roach’s spot, while Cam Clark and Taqele Naiyaravoro join Phipps on a 5-3 bench to face the last-placed Rebels.

Waratahs team (1-15): Tom Robertson, Tolu Latu, Sekope Kepu, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper, Jed Holloway, Jake Gordon, Bernard Foley, Andrew Kellaway, David Horwitz, Rob Horne, Reece Robinson, Israel Folau.

Reserves: Damien Fitzpatrick, Paddy Ryan, David Lolohea, David McDuling, Michael Wells, Nick Phipps, Cam Clark, Taqele Naiyaravoro.

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