The NSW Waratahs welcome back veteran No.8 Wycliff Palu as they brace for a torrid breakdown battle with the Super Rugby champions on Friday night.
Palu replaces young back-rower Jed Holloway in one of two changes to face the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium, with Tolu Latu to start at hooker in the absence of injured Wallabies star Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Resuming after a third-round bye, Gibson has stuck with the same backline that started in the Waratahs’ last-start 32-15 loss to the table-topping Brumbies in Canberra.
Former NRL flyer Reece Robinson has been given another chance to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench in what is expected to be a fast-paced spectacle of rugby between the 2014 champions and reigning titleholders.
The Highlanders ended the Waratahs’ defence last year with a 35-17 victory in the semi-final in Sydney and NSW assistant coach Nathan Grey hopes Palu’s return will give the home side some added punch in the return stoush.
“He showed against the Brumbies that he can provide a really good impetus coming off the bench there and he’s a guy that provides a real spark to the team,” Grey said.
“We’re going to back ourselves in terms of how we want to attack the game and our breakdown is a crucial part of that – and that probably wasn’t up to scratch against the Brumbies.
“For us to be able to play the way we want to play, we need to be able to provide that quick recycle.
“The Highlanders are very good defensively at the breakdown, so we’ll have to make sure we’re on our toes from an attacking perspective.”
NSW Waratahs: Israel Folau, Matt Carraro, Rob Horne, David Horwitz, Zac Guildford, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (capt), David Dennis, Will Skelton, Dean Mumm, Angus Taavao, Tolu Latu, Paddy Ryan. Reserves: Hugh Roach, Jeremy Tilse, Tom Robertson, Sam Lousi, Jed Holloway, Jack Dempsey, Matt Lucas, Reece Robinson.