Daryl Gibson says he has dropped Will Skelton for the Waratahs game against the Reds because of a slow start to the season but says this does not spell the end of Skelton's opportunities this season.
Six months after running out for the Wallabies against Uruguay at the World Cup, Skelton will return to the Shute Shield this weekend for Sydney University against Penrith at Nepean Rugby Park.
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Gibson told Skelton earlier in the week he would be replaced at lock by Dave Dennis and said the 203cm second-rower would be doing everything in his power to get back in the starting XV.
"Will was obviously very disappointed," Gibson said on Friday. "Will's had a slow start to the season and around that I really wanted him to get 80 minutes of game time under his belt and that's why I opted for him to join Sydney Uni tomorrow. That's certainly not permanent; it's a temporary situation and I'm sure he'll be back. I've spent a lot of time with him over the last two games discussing what I want from him. He clearly knows what he needs to do to get back in the team and he's very determined to make sure he's doing everything he can to do that."
Gibson has made "significant" changes from the side that took on the Highlanders last week, with 21-year-old Jack Dempsey sliding into inside breakaway alongside captain Michael Hooper in the No.7 jersey.
"Jack's been a player of enormous potential over the last couple of years," Gibson said. "He's been in our system for a while now and again his performances off the bench have been very good, his pre-season form [was] excellent and it's a case of rewarding that and I think he's earned a start."
Jed Holloway, who scored three tries off the bench last week, will take the place of Wycliff Palu, with Gibson saying Holloway was always his first-choice No.8.
As expected, a backline reshuffle will see Bernard Foley start at five-eighth, Kurtley Beale move to inside centre and Reece Robinson named to make his run-on debut on the wing.
Benn Robinson, who has been sidelined because of a broken nose sustained against the Reds in round one, has been named on the bench alongside David Horwitz and Matt Carraro who were both in the starting XV against the Highlanders last week.
The Waratahs will field their best possible backline for the first time this season, something Gibson hinted might prove the difference come the end of 80 minutes.
"It's a set combination, it's one we've run out before," said Gibson of the Foley-Beale partnership at first and second receiver. "You look at our backline and it looks pretty experienced. It's got a lot of good combinations so I'm really comfortable Bernard's back in the team and KB's in a spot he's familiar with."
Hooper is gearing up for a showdown with long-time rival Liam Gill who is returning from injury in what could be his last NSW-QLD game.
" There's always good passion in this game, so I was surprised Gilly didn't make the first one," Hooper said. "I always enjoyed playing Gilly. We've had that rivalry there for years and enjoyed playing each other – enjoyed playing with each other as well – so it's going to be a tough match-up. I'm sure he's going to give it all this weekend especially coming back from injury. We're one win, two losses – it feels like the season's been going forever. We need to get a win on the board."
NSW Waratahs XV
1. Paddy Ryan (65 caps)
2. Tolu Latu (31 caps)
3. Angus Ta'avao (51 caps)
4. Dean Mumm (89 caps)
5. David Dennis (VC – 95 caps)
6. Jack Dempsey (6 caps)
7. Michael Hooper (C – 84 caps)
8. Jed Holloway (7 caps)
9. Nick Phipps (85 caps)
10. Bernard Foley (65 caps)
11. Zac Guildford (82 caps)
12. Kurtley Beale (118 caps)
13. Rob Horne (92 caps)
14. Reece Robinson (1 cap)
15. Israel Folau (48 caps)
16. Hugh Roach (9 caps)
17. Benn Robinson (145 caps)
18. Tom Robertson (1 cap)
19. Sam Lousi (7 caps)
20. Wycliff Palu (123 caps)
21. Matt Lucas (15 caps)
22. David Horwitz (3 caps)
23. Matt Carraro (43 caps)