Waratahs’ injury curse complicates crucial Super run

Murray Wenzel |

Waratahs mentor Darren Coleman is in the midst of the worst injury crisis of his coaching career.
Waratahs mentor Darren Coleman is in the midst of the worst injury crisis of his coaching career.

Darren Coleman has demanded spark from elsewhere as the NSW Waratahs coach grapples with an unprecedented glut of front-row injuries.

A season-ending foot injury to hooker Theo Fourie is the latest headache for the 2-6 side, who are fresh off a bye that followed an incredible extra-time defeat of the Crusaders.

It’s left Coleman with seven of the squad’s 10 contracted hookers and front-rowers sidelined – as well as two other forwards – ahead of Friday’s Super Rugby Pacific Anzac Round clash with the Chiefs in Sydney.

“I’m not sure what they’ve done … I’ve never had a cluster of injuries in a positional group like this before,” he said.

“All three hookers done for the season and five (sic, four) of our seven props. 

“It’s incredible … we don’t feel there’s any pattern or reason it’s struck, but it’s hitting our stocks.”

Coleman would like to add some experience with a late-season recruit but acknowledged budget constraints when saying “there’s a lot of moving pieces on that”.

For now he’s again called on 28-year-old tradie and Gordon’s Shute Shield hooker Jay Fonokalafi, who will sit on the bench behind the well-travelled Julian Heaven.

Coleman has recalled NRL-bound winger Mark Nawaqanitawase, rotating Dylan Pietsch out of the side.

“I know for a fact him missing out on Crusaders hurt him,” Coleman said of Nawaqanitawase.

“He cares and wants to finish this rugby stint on a high. Now he gets his opportunity to make himself undroppable.

“It’s (rotating selections) keeping them all engaged; we need one of them to really step up.”

Coleman has also dropped backrowers Jed Holloway and Langi Gleeson to the bench.

“We’d like to see a bit more out of them,” Coleman said, demanding more involvement in particular from Gleeson.

“And Jed’s had a flat couple of weeks.

“We’d like to see a bit more bang. Hopefully this move to the bench will really spark them up.”

Coleman also weighed into reports versatile Wallabies forward Ned Hanigan had received big-money interest from France.

“We’d love to keep Ned and have done everything we can at our end to keep him,” he said of the Waratahs’ retention efforts. 

“Now it’s between his management and RA.”

The Waratahs have done their bit in the Australian teams’ battle for parity with the traditionally dominant New Zealand rivals, beating the Crusaders twice and losing by just two points to the Highlanders and the Blues.

The ledge currently sits at 8-7 to New Zealand teams and Australian teams have won four of the last five clashes.

The Waratahs face a crucial three weeks against the Chiefs, unbeaten Hurricanes and leading Australian side Brumbies as they fight to enter the top eight.

“I don’t want to speak early but we understand the importance and if you’re (new Wallabies coach) Joe Schmidt to want the Aussie teams winning or being right in the fight,” Coleman said.

“We’re not only getting our own season back on track, but for Australian rugby we’ve got to do well.”

WARATAHS’ INJURY GLUT  

* Hookers: David Porecki  (Achillies), Mahe Vailanu (knee), Theo Fourie (foot)

* Props: Tom Lambert  (knee), Archer Holz  (shoulder), Daniel Both (Achilles), Angus Bell 

* Back/second row: Mesu Kunavula (knee), Ned Slack-Smith (concussion)

AAP