Palu returns for NSW Waratahs

NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has reverted to his strongest starting line-up for Friday night’s crucial Super Rugby derby with the Brumbies in Canberra.

Wycliff Palu returns in the only change to the side that beat the Melbourne Rebels last outing as the Waratahs look to take control of the Australian conference.

Skipper Dave Dennis moves into the second row to accommodate Palu’s return at No.8, with veteran Mitch Chapman relegated to the bench.

Dennis admits he prefers to play in the back row but using Jacques Potgieter at blindside flanker is better for the team.

“I’m not feeling as though it’s restricting my ability to play good football and contribute,” Dennis said.

“So whether that’s a (number) four or five or six on my back, I just need to ensure that I’m playing good football.”

The match is the first against the Brumbies since Potgieter was fined for making homophobic slurs during the arch-rivals’ round-six clash in Sydney, won 28-13 by the Brumbies.

Neither Cheika or Dennis expect Potgieter to be retreating into his shell in the Canberra clash.

“I think you saw last week Jacques really led from the front in regards to physicality and that’s what we wanted from him,” Dennis said.

“That’s what his strengths are and that’s what we talk about as a pack – play to your strengths.

“His strength is being physical and confrontational. The way he started the match last week really set the tone in that regard and I’d expect the same from him tomorrow night.”

Peter Betham retains his place on the wing in an unchanged backline, with Fiji-born flyer Taqele Naiyaravoro unable to win back the position he forfeited when unable to travel to New Zealand two games ago because of visa restrictions.

Cheika on Thursday named an extended nine-man bench and was still weighing up whether or not to go with six forward reserves like he did against the Rebels.

Waratahs: Israel Folau, Peter Betham, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Jacques Potgieter, Dave Dennis (capt), Will Skelton, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Tolu Latu, Jeremy Tilse, Paddy Ryan, Mitch Chapman, Stephen Hoiles, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbon, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Matt Carraro (one to be omitted).

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