New NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson is wary of an unheralded Queensland Reds side, as he prepares to unleash his new look team in the first Super Rugby match of their post-Michael Cheika era.
The Waratahs will start warm favourites for Saturday’s opening-round clash in Sydney despite losing Wallabies five-eighth Bernard Foley to injury and the departure of several Test players, including World Cup final starters Sekope Kepu and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
They will still field 11 Test representatives, including former All Blacks winger Zac Guildford, one of three debutants in the side, along with fellow New Zealander and prop Angus Ta’avao and inside centre David Horwitz, with former NRL winger Reece Robinson poised to make his debut off the bench.
The Reds lost Will Genia, Quade Cooper and James Horwill to overseas clubs and this week added openside flanker Liam Gill to an injury list containing fellow Wallabies forwards James Slipper and Kane Douglas.
“I think they will be extremely competitive, the same situation for us, we’ve lost numerous players,” Waratahs captain and openside flanker Michael Hooper said on Friday.
Former All Blacks centre Gibson, who was Cheika’s assistant in the latter’s three-year tenure at the Tahs, underlined how the wind of change has swept through their roster.
“Our turnover has been 15 players which is the biggest in our history,” Gibson said.
He won’t make the mistake of underestimating a Queensland side most pundits are tipping to struggle and who haven’t scored more than five points in four successive losses to the Tahs.
“You can never take things too easy,” Gibson said.
“I’ve grown up watching Reds-Waratahs fixtures and the passion both teams displayed in those games.”
The Reds’ run-on side will include debutants in centre Henry Taefu and winger Eto Nabuli, with Japanese World Cup star Ayumu Goromaru named on the bench.
Queensland captain and Wallabies lock Rob Simmons wasn’t talking up his side’s prospects.
“If you’re a gambling man they would have to be going in favourites.” Simmons said.
Gill was one player targeted by the Waratahs in their preparations until he was sidelined by a back issue.
“He’s a very good player for this team, but it allows a good opportunity for the likes of Curtis Browning and Michael Gunn to come in and gain some experience,” Simmons said.
He said Queensland weren’t focusing on Kurtley Beale lining up at five-eighth for NSW.
Gibson was adamant fullback Israel Folau was ready despite having just one trial hitout following ankle surgery.
“He’s going to be short of match fitness, but certainly he’s looking exciting and really keen and enthusiastic,” Gibson said.