MELBOURNE (Reuters) - New South Wales Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson is offering no guarantees he will rest his Wallabies players should his team beat the ACT Brumbies on Saturday and still be in the playoffs hunt for the final round.
Captain Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale need to sit out one of the last two matches as part of an agreement struck with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika to ease the loads of his squad players in the World Cup year.
All five Wallabies will start in the home match against the Australian conference-leading Brumbies, however, meaning they would need to be rested for the final regular season match away to New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders.
Gibson said he had made no assurances to Cheika either way.
“We’re in a situation where we need to get an outcome in this (Brumbies) game to remain in the competition and give our Australian players of national interest an opportunity to play against their peers,” he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
“It’s a hypothetical problem for next week. We want to look at it then. Am I going to make any guarantees? No.
“We’ll let it get through Saturday and if a result goes our way, then we’ll have those conversations.”
With Australia’s other three Super Rugby teams likely to take a dim view of the Waratahs securing an exemption from the Wallabies directive, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle was adamant Gibson would need to fall in line.
“We recognise that it is challenging, but we all sat down - Michael Cheika and the Super Rugby coaches and their high performance teams - well before the beginning of the year and agreed on something that we all believed was workable,” she said earlier this week.
The Waratahs are third in the Australian conference on 30 points behind the Brumbies (39) and the Melbourne Rebels (34), but could still grab top spot and an automatic playoff berth if results go their way.
They have already lost two of their Wallabies players for the season, with fullback Israel Folau sacked and centre Karmichael Hunt ruled out with a knee injury.
Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu has also missed the last two weeks due to a drink driving charge but has been provisionally included for the Brumbies game after entering a guilty plea.
“He’d be an excellent boost,” Gibson said.
“Obviously, he hasn’t played a great deal of rugby this year due to suspension so we’re obviously keen to give him that opportunity, bearing in mind there is a World Cup coming up.”
Gibson also spoke of fringe back John Folau’s decision to leave the club after his older brother Israel was fired for posting an offensive tweet.
Israel Folau announced on Thursday that he had launched legal action against Rugby Australia and the Waratahs over his termination.
“We gave John some time off for leave,” Gibson said. “He’s come back to us recently and asked for a release, which we were happy to grant.
“We can all understand the loyalty he has to his family and to his brother and totally respect that position.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly