New NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson wants Wallaby backs Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Rob Horne to establish themselves among the leaders of his new-look Super Rugby team.
Gibson, who has taken over from Michael Cheika, has lost the services of several long-serving Test players to overseas teams.
Stalwarts Adam Ashley-Cooper, Wycliff Palu and Sekope Kepu are among those to depart, along with fellow internationals Peter Betham, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Jacques Potgieter.
“What I will be looking for is the middle tier in our team – Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, a number of guys who are 26, 27 years of age – which really is their time now to stand up and lead the team.
“Someone like Bernard, who had a fantastic World cup, would grow in confidence from that.
“Kurtley has really matured and I think he’s really growing up and really wanting to be a bigger part of the team, leadership-wise.”
Former All Blacks winger Zac Guildford and New Zealand-born prop Angus Ta’avao are among the newcomers to the squad, but Gibson wants to primarily fill the gaps by drawing on local talent.
Among those he regards as players of immense potential are five-eighth and 2015 Sydney club player of the year David Horwitz and outside backs Andrew Kellaway and Harry Jones.
“There’s been a big change of the top and what it’s allowed is for a number of our younger players to come through the system that we’ve developed for a long time,” Gibson said.
“It’s their opportunity to stake a claim.”
Gibson said it would be a big challenge replacing the scrummaging ability of Kepu, but was pleased with the way Wallaby prop Paddy Ryan and Ta’avao were shaping up.
Horne (shoulder), lock Will Skelton (shoulder) and fullback Israel Folau (ankle) are the main injury concerns although, as World Cup squad members, they wouldn’t need to return to Waratahs training until the new year.
Gibson, one of Cheika’s assistants for the past two years, stressed he wouldn’t deviate from the successful style and formula employed by his predecessor.
“No real changes – we’re committed to being a ball-in-hand team,” Gibson said.
“What we have done is been given a remarkable blueprint of how to be successful, what a good team does, and we won’t be changing anything.”
The infamous pre-season hill runs introduced by Cheika were part of the routine on Wednesday despite the temperature climbing to 35 degrees in Sydney.
“As a Waratah, you’ve got a rite of passage which you must follow and part of that is running hills,” said Gibson who was spotted doing just that.