Back to work: Utility back Berrick Barnes, who has played just 20 minutes this season. Photo: Anthony Johnson Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has taken out kicking insurance for his side’s must-win clash against the Stormers this weekend, backing Test back Berrick Barnes to start from the bench after just 20 minutes game time this season.
Barnes joins winger Drew Mitchell on the bench as the only two changes to the side involved in the Waratahs’ historic 72-10 rout of the Kings in Port Elizabeth.
After missing the first three games with a knee injury, Barnes played 19 minutes against the Cheetahs in round five before hurting his right hand. The injury to his thumb required surgery and kept him out of the game for the next seven weeks, leading team insiders to speculate Barnes would find it difficult to make it back into the squad with such limited time in the back line.
Despite their growing flair in attack, the Waratahs have struggled without a consistently competent kicker, and Barnes’ return to the match 22 for a game against a side with as strong a defensive line as the Stormers’ could be read as an extra option for Cheika. Earlier in the week, Barnes believed he was as likely to return to playing with Sydney University via the Shute Shield as he was for the Waratahs.
”I’m fully confident about the hand and feeling reasonably fit but you can’t get game fitness training,” Barnes said. ”You need to get that back playing, and either way I’m going to get that this weekend.”
Rookie Cam Crawford has been backed to continue his solid form on the wing with Peter Betham on Saturday, while Tom Kingston lost out to Mitchell for the final bench spot, after the Test wing recovered from a hamstring strain.
They will take on a Stormers’ back line stacked with Springboks, including departing great Bryan Habana, Gio Aplon, Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh.
But it is the forwards the Waratahs have spent most time preparing for this week, after their lineout and work in the collision was shown up against the Bulls in Pretoria two weeks ago.
”They are renowned for dominating teams physically, with their forwards carrying over you,” breakaway Michael Hooper said. ”We haven’t got a small pack by any means, but they’re good at what they do; they hold players and teams up. We’ve got to work on ways to combat that.”
Hooper said the Tahs could not afford to be too high in their ball carries, while captain Dave Dennis continued to press his teammates in their lineout work. ”[Tatafu Polota-Nau] and John [Ulugia] are good throwers when they’re on, and we’ve got good jumpers, so it’s a pretty simple area of the game that you can probably overcomplicate sometimes,” Dennis said. ”We’ll do some good work on it [so I’m] confident on how we go.”