Rookie Volavola In Trial By Fire Against Hero Carter
by Brendan Bradford –
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has selected 22-year-old playmaker Ben Volavola to start at flyhalf against a star-studded Canterbury Crusaders outfit tomorrow night and says he has no doubts about the Southern Districts rookie’s ability to step up for the big game.
“He’s a very natural, instinctive player and although he’s only very young and a few months into the program as a professional player, the way he has responded has been surprisingly good,” said Cheika.
Volavola, who was a stand-out in Southern Districts’ run to the Shute Shield Grand Final last year, was signed by the Waratahs during the off-season as back-up to Berrick Barnes and Bernard Foley, who have both been ruled out through injury. The fleet footed Volavola counts his Crusaders playmaking counterpart, Dan Carter as one of his favourite players and Cheika believes the opportunity to play against the All Blacks five-eighth will only be beneficial for the youngster.
“You don’t get experience if you don’t play,” said Cheika.
“I am more than happy with him playing and it’s very exciting for Ben to go up against Dan Carter. It will be up to the rest of the team to make sure he challenges one of the best players in the world and take him on. It won’t be up to Ben, he’ll just play naturally.”
Volavola’s Southern Districts teammate Grayson Hart starts at halfback while experienced campaigners Tom Carter (inside-centre) and Adam Ashley-Cooper (outside-centre) have been charged with nullifying the dangerous Crusaders midfield pairing of Ryan Crotty and Robbie Fruean.
Wallaby Lachie Turner and Sydney Uni speedster Tom Kingston start on the wings, while star recruit Israel Folau makes his third and most challenging rugby union appearance in the 15 jersey squaring off against namesake, All Blacks speedster Israel Dagg.
The Waratahs pack – led for the first time by captain Dave Dennis – features six internationals including an all Wallaby front-row of Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu.
New signing Mitchell Chapman starts at lock alongside Sitaleki Timani while Sydney University flanker David Hickey is a surprise selection at openside flanker. Tenacious at the breakdown and uncompromising in defence, 21-year-old Hickey made his first grade debut for the Students at just 19 after only a single season in Colts and is one of a dozen promising youngsters invited to train with the Waratahs during the off-season.
A fully fit Wycliff Palu starts at No. 8 in what Cheika hopes will be a forward pack that can set the platform to unleash his exciting backline.
“If we can go forward up front, then we’ll earn the right to go a bit wider and attack and hopefully put them under pressure,” said Cheika.
“It’s early days, we’re not going to get carried away. It’s more about the team realising that this is the way we play, this is the team we are, and this is how we do it every day. It won’t just come in a few practise matches, it will take time for that to blend in when we’re under pressure, when we have adversity, to make sure we are true to the way we play.”
Former Eastwood playmaker James Hilgendorf has been drafted onto a 14-man bench as cover for Barnes and Foley.
The Crusaders lost their first two trial matches against the Hurricanes and Highlanders but will field a near full-strength side featuring 10 All Blacks including Carter, Dagg and captain Kieran Read.
The match kicks-off at 7:30pm at Allianz Stadium, Thursday February 14
1. Benn Robinson 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau 3. Sekope Kepu 4. Sitaleki Timani 5. Mitchell Chapman 6. Dave Dennis (c) 7. David Hickey 8. Wycliff Palu 9. Grayson Hart 10. Ben Volavola 11. Tom Kingston 12. Tom Carter 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper 14. Lachie Turner 15. Israel Folau.
Luke Holmes, John Ulugia, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Brendan McKibbin, James Hilgendorf, Cam Crawford, Michael Hodge, Drew Mitchell, Michael Hooper, Jed Holloway, Lopeti Timani, Kane Douglas, Greg Peterson.
1. Wyatt Crockett 2. Ben Funnell 3. Owen Franks 4. Luke Romano 5. Sam Whitelock 6. George Whitelock 7. Matt Todd 8. Kieran Read (c) 9. Andy Ellis 10. Dan Carter 11. Johnny McNicholl 12. Ryan Crotty 13. Robbie Fruean 14. Adam Whitelock 15. Israel Dagg.
Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Tom Marshall, Telusa Veianu, Shane Christie, Tom Donnelly, Corey Flynn.