Waratahs unleash $3m awesome foursome
THEY'RE the $3 million backline superstars tasked with turning the Waratahs from the third worst team in Super Rugby to finalists within a year.
Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley and new signing Curtis Rona will be unleashed by NSW in their first match against Cape Town's Stormers at Allianz Stadium on Saturday as part of one of the most potent backlines in Tahs history.
And in a new playing direction for the team, coach Daryl Gibson wants his forwards to run the big Stormers forwards ragged before his stars unload wave after wave of attacking raids in a ball-in-hand clinic.
"What I'm really looking for from our attack is sustained pressure on the opposition, being able to hold the ball for long periods to either get points or get line breaks and more pressure," Gibson said.
"We're going to be relying on our main guys, our spine, the nine, 10 and 12 to do the damage for us and then look for our cameo parts from Israel Folau and so forth.
"I'm really excited to see our young guys go, Curtis Rona on debut, [centre] Lalakai Foketi, they're there and we're backing them."
Gibson has no doubt his new-look backline can fire from the first game.
"That's certainly our expectation from day one," Gibson said.
"We wanted our players to be the best, present from the off-season in the best condition they could arrive in.
"And certainly with Israel Folau given that extended leave period, we want to see the best of him right from day one.
"Kurtley's skillset is slightly different to what we have in Australia, he is a very heads up, instinctive player.
"We've given him that freedom, that he plays what we call heads up rugby, and plays what's in front of him.
"We were very lucky and fortunate to get Curtis through the contract negotiations.
"Having had time with him now I think he's very comfortable at centre or wing, it's really about finding the best combination backline we can field.
"We felt that combination that we're starting with on Saturday, we'd like to see more of, and give that an opportunity to see what they can do.
"Bernard has to play his game, make excellent decisions, put us in the right positions."
While the backs have the star power, it's NSW's unheralded forwards that must deliver the platform.
Already being written off as too small, Gibson has deliberately named a faster, more mobile pack to deliver his new game style.
"What we've tried to forge is a hardworking forward pack that are servants of the backs; you go and retrieve the ball so the backs can play with it," Gibson said.
"There's a big challenge for us, the Stormers are a physical, set-piece team.
"What I want to see in our forward pack, we've picked them for a reason, we've selected and recruited the way we have because we want to be a hardworking, no-nonsense pack that's very mobile and fit.
"That's certainly the identity we've carved and tried to forge for ourselves.
"And to be able to do all those things you need to be good in your core areas, the scrum and lineout."
Gone from last year is hiding weak tacklers in the defensive line.
"We're defending with the number on our back this year, we're not mixing people up and putting them in different spots,' Gibson said.
NSW WARATAHS: 15. Israel Folau 14. Andrew Kellaway 13. Lalakai Foketi 12. Kurtley Beale 11. Curtis Rona 10. Bernard Foley 9. Jake Gordon 8. Michael Wells 7. Michael Hooper (captain) 6. Ned Hanigan 5. Rob Simmons 4. Tom Staniforth 3. Paddy Ryan 2. Damien Fitzpatrick 1. Tom Robertson. Reserves: 16. Hugh Roach 17. Harry Johnson-Holmes 18. Shambeckler Vui 19. Nick Palmer 20. Jed Holloway 21. Mitch Short 22. Bryce Hegarty 23. Alex Newsome.