One-time State of Origin hardman Mark Carroll has made a conspicuous appearance at NSW Waratahs training.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is not averse to mixing things up, last year training and trading ideas with Moore Park neighbours the Sydney Roosters before pulling out a golf driver to fire up his charges en route to a maiden Super Rugby title.
So it was no great surprise to see Carroll overseeing a spirited defensive session ahead of the Tahs’ showdown with South African heavyweights the Stormers at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
The former Kangaroos, Blues, Manly and Souths enforcer took a particular interest in the toughness of the NSW forwards and was seen offering words of encouragement for Will Skelton as the giant lock effected some crunching tackles on teammates.
Defence coach Nathan Grey is tipping a bruising battle with the Stormers and has warned the Waratahs to be on guard against the exuberance of the Cape Town outfit.
“They’ve got a lot of young guys who are trying to play their way and trying to play really well at this level,” he said.
“That’s exciting for them, but it’s also dangerous for us … they back themselves to play from anywhere on the field.
“They’ve got that young, `let’s have a crack’ attitude, which is going to provide opportunities if we’re lazy.”
Adam Ashley-Cooper ran freely and completed the session seemingly unscathed, but remains unlikely to start after being sidelined for almost two months with a knee injury.
Grey said it was entirely up to Ashley-Cooper and Cheika whether or not the Wallabies backline ace was ready for a comeback, after last week saying it was most unlikely.
“I seriously don’t know. We’re definitely hoping to have him back,” Grey said.
“We understand the injury and what-not, so it’s a matter of if he’s 100 per cent ready to go, both from his perspective and (that of) the physios.”
Grey said the Waratahs would “cross that bridge when we come to it” when asked what Ashley-Cooper’s comeback – whenever it may occur – would mean for Israel Folau’s roving commission and rights to inject himself from fullback to outside centre whenever he felt like it.
“Obviously the opportunity to play Israel up in the front line has its positives and also if you’ve got someone like Adam coming back into the side, that provides another opportunity to use him in that part of the field,” Grey said.
“It gives us a few options around the ability to change things up, which keeps the opposition guessing.”
“So that’s something we can definitely do if it’s available to us.
“But we don’t know that yet.”
Folau is cool either way.
“I’m just happy to fill the positions that I’m required to play,” he said.
“It’ll be a huge game for us and, if Adam comes back this week, it will be a huge bonus.”