NSW Waratahs set for Super forward battle

NSW Waratahs coach Rob Penney expects Saturday night's Super Rugby AU showdown with the Brumbies to be won up front.

KARMICHAEL HUNT.
KARMICHAEL HUNT. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

He couldn't ignore Karmichael Hunt's irresistible form but it's the return of two hungry Wallabies forwards that most excites NSW Waratahs coach Rob Penney ahead of Saturday's Super Rugby AU showdown with the Brumbies.

Hunt will start at ANZ Stadium following a superb cameo off the bench in last Saturday's 23-14 comeback win over the Western Force.

The dual international's inclusion at inside centre has triggered a backline reshuffle, with Joey Walton shifting to 13, Alex Newsome moving onto the wing and rookie Mark Nawaqanitawase going to the bench.

But it's the long-awaited comeback of Test prop Tom Robertson after four months out with a back injury and the promotion of Wallabies back-rower Jack Dempsey that Penney is banking on most.

Along with Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan and Harry Johnson-Holmes, Robertson's return gives the Waratahs five Wallabies starting forwards in what looms as an intriguing battle with the Brumbies' formidable pack.

The Brumbies boast an all-Wallabies front row but Penney took heart from the Melbourne Rebels dominating at scrum time last outing and is challenging the Waratahs forwards to show the way.

"We really respect the Brumbies without being intimidated by them as a forward pack so that's a good place for us to be," Penney said on Wednesday.

Dempsey has had to bide his time off the bench with Penney preferring youngster Will Harris at No.8 until finally opting to start one of his "big dogs".

"Jack's trained the house down and had real impact when he's come off the bench," the coach said.

"He's an explosive athlete and those smaller dynamic blocks that he gets to contribute off the bench have worked really well for us.

"Now he's got the opportunity to bring that right from the word go."

The Brumbies welcome back Wallabies star Tom Banks and the Tahs know they must mitigate his impact from fullback.

"It's critical we don't give him opportunities to kick," Penney said.

"He'd be one of the best going around at penalty kicks into the corner and obviously the Brumbies lineout feeds off that and their maul so our discipline is a crucial part of our preparation."

WARATAHS: Jack Maddocks, James Ramm, Joey Walton, Karmichael Hunt, Alex Newsome, Will Harrison, Mitch Short, Jack Dempsey, Michael Hooper, Lachlan Swinton, Rob Simmons (capt), Ned Hanigan, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Tom Horton, Tom Robertson. Res: Robbie Abel, Tetera Faulkner, Angus Bell, Tom Staniforth, Will Harris, Michael McDonald, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Ben Donaldson.

Brumbies: BRUMBIES: Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Tevita Kuridrani, Irae Simone, Tom Wright, Noah Lolesio, Joe Powell, Pete Samu, Tom Cusack, Rob Valetini, Murray Douglas, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa (capt), Folau Fainga'a, James Slipper. Res: Connal McInerney, Scott Sio, Tom Ross, Lachlan McCaffrey, Will Miller, Issak Fines, Bayley Kuenzle, Mack Hansen.