Kurtley Beale looms as the most likely replacement for under-siege fullback Israel Folau for the blockbuster Australian conference battle between the Waratahs and Rebels in Sydney on Saturday night.
Folau has been stood down from all duties pending a disciplinary process over his controversial social media posts, leaving NSW coach Daryl Gibson with yet another selection reshuffle on his hands before their must-win clash with the in-form Rebels.
Reshuffle: Kurtley Beale could start at fullback in Israel Folau’s absence. Credit:Wolter Peeters
Gibson said he could call on a number of "part-timers" for the No.15 jersey, including Karmichael Hunt, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Alex Newsome.
But Beale is the most obvious choice, having played there against the Reds at the Sydney Cricket Ground last month. In that line up, Folau and Curtis Rona were on the wings and Karmichael Hunt and Adam Ashley-Cooper lined up in the midfield. This week Alex Newsome could start on the wing in Folau's place.
"We’ve got a lot of part-timers there, obviously Karmichael’s had experience there, Alex has, Adam, probably none of them would say that’s their preferred position, or their most strongest position, so everyone we stitch together will be a part-time [proposition]," Gibson said.
"There's lots of options on the table, isn't there? Obviously, at this point, to lose a player of Israel's calibre, it's a great opportunity for our boys to step up and show what they can do."
During these times a team either does that, they either pull together, or they fall apart.
The team will also be without in-form back-rower Ned Hanigan, who picked up a knee injury against the Blues a fortnight ago and sat out training on Monday.
Folau's younger brother John trained with the squad as ususal and was seen doing extras with teammate Curtis Rona. Both men are known to be deeply religious, Rona supporting Israel Folau on social media after his first controversial foray on Instagram last year.
Gibson and NSW Rugby boss Andrew Hore said they were mindful of making sure John and others felt included and comfortable in the team environment.
"We briefed them on the process [around Israel] and explained that we want players to have a view but how that is then expressed is very, very important and they show respect to all sectors of our rugby community," Hore said at Rugby Australia headquarters on Monday afternoon.
"We represent 250,000 participants in our state and probably every one of those would have a different view on this situation and it makes it really challenging.
"They [the NSW players] understand this whole situation is awkward for everybody and very tough and they were appreciative of the fact we went through the process. They understand they still have a voice and they put that forward."
The Waratahs are seven points behind the Rebels on the Super Rugby table and a win against the Melbourne team would be a massive boost to their season.
"We've got to galvanise, pull together and really step up," Gibson said.
"I think it's a great opportunity. During these times a team either does that, they either pull together, or they fall apart. I know the character of the men in our side and that's what we're looking for."
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