Wallabies superstar Israel Folau is finally set to see some time at outside centre, with NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson also keen to give Kurtley Beale time at fullback.
Folau is training again after recovering from ankle surgery following last year’s World Cup and is scheduled to make his return to action in the Waratahs’ final pre-season trial.
The final piece of the Waratahs’ 2016 roster jigsaw fell into place on Thursday with the announcement they had signed former Melbourne Rebels five-eighth Bryce Hegarty.
Gibson said acquiring 23-year-old Hegarty for the coming season gave the Waratahs more backline options and flexibility.
It would free up gifted utility Beale to play at other positions apart from five-eighth, where he has been playing during the pre-season.
Incumbent Wallabies and NSW five-eighth Bernard Foley only finished his off-season stint in Japan last weekend and will have a two-week break before playing in the Waratahs’ second trial.
“I see Kurtley as a player who can play exceptionally as a 10 and he’s doing that currently for us,” Gibson said on Thursday.
“We’ve seen what he can do at 12 and at the World Cup I was very impressed with his play when he came on as a fullback.
“It’s still my intention to try Folau up front (at outside centre) give him some time there, which will allow me to play Beale at fullback.”
Folau excelled at fullback through his first three years in rugby union, though a stint at outside centre has been on the cards for some time.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for the last year and the fact that he’s seen the game develop over three years,” Gibson said.
“You’ve got to remember he came from league as a centre, and so his natural position and where he’s grown up is playing in that position.
“He’s had the luxury of sitting back and playing fullback and learning the game of rugby union.
“He’s got the enthusiasm of learning a new position. I’m not going to be pressed hard and fast into saying he’s going to play 13, but certainly it is an option for us.”
Gibson said the Waratahs’ other recuperating Wallabies, lock Will Skelton and winger Rob Horne, were on track to play the second and third trials.
He emphasised the importance of managing the workload of Foley.
Hegarty has joined NSW from Japanese club Toyota Industries after amassing 33 Super caps for the Rebels from 2013-15.
“One of the things we looked at our squad and saw we’re short of is a really nice player, who can fill the fly half role if Bernard was to get injured and fullback and he (Hegarty) has got that versatility.”