NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson is demanding superstar centre Israel Folau gets more ball in Friday night’s Super Rugby crunch match with the table-topping Chiefs.
Gibson has relegated David Horwitz to the bench and moved Wallabies winger Rob Horne to inside centre to partner Folau in the midfield in his ongoing quest to maximise the dual international’s talents.
The reshuffle is sure to stiffen up the Tahs defensively, but the Australian conference leaders lose their second ball player in Horwitz.
Gibson is comfortable with that as he is offering Folau a roving commission at Allianz Stadium.
“I’m still trying to get that (centre) combination right without (injured Kurtley) Beale and searching for the right combination,” he said on Thursday.
“The positive is our big players – our Wallabies – are playing particularly well and, as simple as it seems, we’ve got to get the ball to Folau.
“Obviously with David, he had two full games, an opportunity there, and I don’t think he quite nailed it.
“I’m willing to give someone else a go.”
After starting the season with Folau at fullback, Gibson now views the code hopper as “that up-front ball player” five games into his transition to outside centre.
But he wants the John Eales Medallist bobbing up everywhere and says he will not only interchange with Horne in the centres, but also attack from the back.
“We want to maximise Israel’s abilities, both defensively and catching high balls, which has become a real trend in the game over the last three or four months,” Gibson said.
“So expect to see him at the back catching high balls and at the front attacking with the ball.”
Most pundits are tipping the Waratahs to relinquish top spot in the Australian conference – and a guaranteed finals berth – to the Brumbies, who have a much easier run home with games against the Sunwolves, Queensland Reds, Blues and Western Force.
But not so the Waratahs, who finish the regular season against the Sunwolves, Hurricanes and Blues after hosting the competition leaders.
“We’re in control of our own destiny,” said skipper Michael Hooper.
In a blow to their finals hopes, the Waratahs will be without emerging back-rower Jed Holloway not only on Friday night but for the rest of the 2016 campaign after deciding he needs shoulder surgery.
The 23-year-old will be sidelined for four months.
“Disappointing for Jed,” Gibson said.
“He was really in contention for a Wallabies position and pushing hard for that.”