Coach Daryl Gibson is demanding more from Will Skelton after dumping the giant Wallabies lock from the NSW Waratahs’ Super Rugby crunch match with the Queensland Reds.
Skelton has been unable to regain form and fitness since suffering a pectoral injury at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and Gibson is turning to his band of generation-next forwards to ignite the Waratahs’ stop-start campaign.
With the 140kg player relegated to Sydney club rugby, Dave Dennis moves into the second row to partner Dean Mumm, which paves the way for hard-hitting blindside flanker Jack Dempsey to make his long-awaited run-on debut for the Waratahs on Sunday.
“Jack’s been a player of enormous potential over the last few years,” Gibson said after Friday’s captain’s run in Sydney.
“He’s been in our system for a while now and his performances off the bench have been very good, his pre-season form was excellent and it’s a case of rewarding that.”
Dempsey will team with fellow young gun Jed Holloway – who bagged a hat-trick off the bench in NSW’s last-up 30-26 loss to the Highlanders – and Wallabies star Michael Hooper in a new-look back row.
“That loose forward trio, we’ll see how it goes,” said Gibson, licking his lips at the prospect of a breakdown battle with Queensland’s dynamic back-row unit of Jake Schatz, Liam Gill and Japanese international Hendrik Tui.
Holloway has been recalled to the starting line-up in place of veteran No.8 Wycliff Palu, but it’s Skelton’s axing – which overshadows the return of Wallabies five-eighth Bernard Foley and a first cap for former NRL winger Reece Robinson – that sends the message that big names mean little to Gibson.
“Will’s had a slow start to the season and around that I really wanted him to get 80 minutes of game time under the belt, and that’s why I opted for him to join Sydney Uni,” Gibson said.
“Particularly, we’re in a bit of a cycle where he’ll play for 50 and come off and Sam Lousi’s been doing incredibly well also (going on).
“Also, the performances of the young guys – they’ve earned more game time and so to cater for that we’ve had to make some changes.”
Gibson admitted Skelton was “very disappointed” to have been dropped, “but it’s certainly not permanent. This a temporary situation.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the last two days discussing exactly what I want from him,” Gibson said.
“He’s very determined to make sure that he’s doing everything he can to get back into the team.”
Foley’s return from a shoulder injury for his first appearance of the season has forced a reshuffle of the NSW back line, with Kurtley Beale reverting to inside centre and David Horwitz relegated to the bench.
Robinson, in his first season in Super Rugby after defecting from Parramatta’s league ranks, replaces Matt Carraro on the wing.