A Wallabies resting policy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Waratahs’ selection dilemmas for their final round clash against the Highlanders.
Last week’s loss to the Brumbies all but ensured the Waratahs would miss the playoffs but there is still a remote chance for them to make it.
The Waratahs need a bonus-point win and for the Chiefs to beat the Rebels without a bonud point in Melbourne later on Friday night to still be a chance of making it through to the playoffs.
With only a sliver of hope in that regard, they have already hinted that they will rest key quintet Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Michael Hooper for the clash.
Those five are yet to fulfil their Wallabies’ World Cup rotation requirements and this is the final opportunity for them to sit out a game.
Though that group’s potential absence has been discussed for weeks but they mightn’t be the only selection debate for the Waratahs, who leave for New Zealand on Wednesday morning.
Wallabies flanker Jack Dempsey could in the mix for a comeback, after battling a back injury in recent weeks.
Dempsey hasn’t played since round 11 against the Sharks and the Waratahs have been cautious in his rehab with the World Cup looming, though the backrower has been improving.
Hooker Tolu Latu is also yet to find out whether he will be available to travel to New Zealand, with the rake set to face sentencing over a drink driving charge.
Latu pleaded guilty to his charge and his case was adjourned to June 14, with the Waratahs to confirm on Tuesday whether he will be required to attend Friday’s hearing.
Rookie flyhalf Mack Mason is expected to start in Foley’s place against the Highlanders and teammate Cam Clark endorsed Mason’s form despite a roundly-criticised outing in his last start.
Mason has had limited opportunities since moving to the Waratahs and has not played a minute since struggling in the chief playmaking spot in a loss to the Sunwolves.
The 23-year-old has been named on the bench once since then but did not make it off the pine, playing instead in the Shute Shield for Easts.
“Mack’s been great training all year, so it’s awesome that hopefully he gets out there, he’s a great player.
“He’s been playing great footy for Easts as well in the Shute Shield, so he’s match fit and ready to go so I’m sure he’ll be able to step up.”
With Hooper and Foley both likely to sit out, the Waratahs will also have a different captain in New Zealand but Clark said he was confident their other leaders could step up.
“I think we’ve still got a number of great leaders in our group without those two,” he said.
“There’s people like Nick Phipps and Adam Ashley-Cooper and a strong leadership group there so I’m sure one of them will be happy to step up.”
The Waratahs have had some enthralling battles with the Highlanders in recent years but the sides haven’t faced off in Invercargill since 2010 – a 26-10 win for the Highlanders.
NSW won both their clashes in 2018 and fell just four points short in their 2017 match up in Sydney.
All Blacks star Ben Smith is set to make his return from injury in the clash and Clark said it would be a tough test to finish the year.
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“They are a great side, they have a lot of flair, a lot of variety in their attack and some great players. You’ve got to be pretty on to win against them,” he said.
“They’ve got a lot to prove as well going into this last game. It’ll be a tough one, all the New Zealand sides are always pretty tough.
“I don’t think anything will really change for us. Hopefully we can have another good performance.”
The Waratahs take on the Highlanders in Invercargill on Friday June 14, kicking off at 5:35pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.