Wallabies pair return to bolster Tahs’ starting line-up

Waratahs captain Michael Hooper says Nick Phipps was ropeable when he was dropped last month and has backed the returning Wallabies halfback to channel his anger when he returns to the team for the derby showdown against the Queensland Reds on Saturday.

Coach Daryl Gibson has made four changes to the starting side that was humiliated by the Southern Kings last week with Phipps, second-rower Dean Mumm, prop Sekope Kepu and hooker Hugh Roach coming into the starting team.

Phipps has played second fiddle to Jake Gordon since the Rebels match in round five but will get a chance to steer the Waratahs around Suncorp Stadium with his characteristically crisp passing and exuberant nature.

Hooper said he was excited to see Phipps return and gave an insight into what his time on the bench was like.

“No one was angrier [than Phipps] when he missed a couple of opportunities to start,” Hooper said. “I’m really happy with the energy he’s brought when he was on the bench and particularly coming back into the team. He’s been fantastic and a credit to his work ethic and attitude to get back into a starting side.

“[He] loves starting and playing against the Reds each time he’s had the opportunity. Now he needs to deliver for the rest of the team.”

The omission altogether of Gordon is a strange one given his solid performances in recent weeks despite the Waratahs’ struggles.

Gibson indicated Gordon would slide straight back into the starting halfback role next week against the Auckland Blues.

“Jake Gordon will be back in the next game and his omission from the line-up is by no means a reflection on his form,” Gibson said. “We have three strong halves and the rotation this weekend will be our strongest combination to face the Reds opposition.”

After one week on the bench, Mumm replaces another Wallaby in Will Skelton.

“With a week off, hopefully it will have done him [Mumm] good and he’s ready and raring to go,” said NSW assistant coach Chris Malone. “I know it’s going to be difficult not to get up for a game like this.”

Roach replaces hooker Tolu Latu, who has been ruled out with a shoulder injury, while Kepu slots back into tight-head prop following his one-week suspension.

“Keps has come back with a lot of fire in the belly and the guys who played last weekend, they’ve got a point to prove,” Hooper said. “I’m not making any predictions. We had a good week scrummaging and that’s what needs to carry over into the weekend and making that transition from talk onto the field.”

The Waratahs have the wood over the Reds, winning the last six matches between the sides as well as conceding an impressive average of just seven points.

A loss, however, could potentially put the Waratahs into last spot if other results do not go their way.

If the Waratahs lose – without claiming a bonus point – and the Melbourne Rebels beat the Southern Kings in South Africa early on Sunday morning, NSW will be cellar dwellers in the n conference.

Hooper said they weren’t even considering the idea.

“Not planning for a loss, so I can’t tell you how that would feel,” Hooper said. “Everything is pointing to a win for us at the moment.”

Malone has predicted the Reds to throw the ball around and be particularly motivated given they are also two wins from eight games this year.

“With Quade Cooper at No.10, they’re obviously going to try stuff and they’ll have a lot of tricks up their sleeve,” Malone said. “They’re in a similar position in the fact the n conference is still up for the taking. They’ll have steam coming out of their ears when we get up there so I expect a passionate NSW-Queensland derby.”

Meanwhile, Wallabies captain Stephen Moore has been recalled to the Reds starting side.

n second-rower Kane Douglas is a surprise omission from the team altogether, while Samu Kerevi will captain the Reds.

“If you look at the way the club can grow over the next few years, having a guy who’s 34 just taking over the captaincy is maybe not the best option,” Moore told reporters on Thursday. “We need to start developing more leaders in n rugby and the Reds are no different.

“My role is to help Samu now as much as I can and he’s been really good, he’s got the right characteristics to be a really good captain for the club and he’s starting to learn about what it all means.”

Queensland Reds: Karmichael Hunt, Izaia Perese, Samu Kerevi (capt), Duncan Paia’aua, Eto Nabuli, Quade Cooper, James Tuttle, Scott Higginbotham, George Smith, Hendrik Tui, Lukhan Tui, Rob Simmons, Sam Talakai, Stephen Moore, Sef Fa’agase. Reserves: Alex Mafi, Kirwan Sanday, Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Leroy Houston, Nick Frisby, Hamish Stewart, Campbell Magnay.

NSW Waratahs: Israel Folau, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Rob Horne, David Horwitz, Cam Clark, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps. Michael Wellings, Michael Hooper, (capt), Ned Hanigan, Dean Mumm, David McDuling, Sekope Kepu, Hugh Roach, Tom Robertson. Reserves: Damien Fitzpatrick, Paddy Ryan, Angus Taavao, Will Skelton, Jed Holloway, Matt Lucas, Irae Simone, Bryce Hegarty.

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