IF the NSW Waratahs are to challenge for the 2017 Super Rugby title, coach Daryl Gibson says the Tahs’ trip to the central west next year will act as a crucial springboard.
The 2014 Super Rugby champions will take on the ACT Brumbies at Mudgee’s Glen Willow on Saturday, February 4.
A week-long trip to the region, the star-studded NSW outfit will engage in junior clinics in both Orange and Bathurst before a intensive training camp at Burrendong Dam in the lead-up to the Mudgee trial.
With such a short preparation ahead of the first regular season clash with the Western Force in Sydney on February 25, Gibson believes there’s no better way to bring his side together than a trip to wine country – not that his side will be sampling much sauv blanc.
“We see the trip to Mudgee as a real pivotal part of the season in terms of the foundations of our team and setting all our goals and values for the year,” Gibson said, entering his second year as coach of the Tahs.
“The best way we’ve found to do that is on a week-long road trip that includes Mudgee and other local communities in the area and the central west.
“It’s a really big part of our pre-season campaign. The great thing is we’ve got a number of players with country origin, so it’s good that we’ve out supporting them and their area.”
NSW Waratahs are deep into their pre-season summer slog, but won’t boast the likes of Wallabies guns Israel Folau and Michael Hooper until after Christmas.
Initially, Gibson remained coy about the chances of one, if not both playing at Glen Willow come February 4.
But given the ACT Brumbies have already indicated most of their best XV will get a run in the season-opener, Gibson said his two highest profile players are in contention to play in Mudgee.
“They’ll definitely be on the trip … we’ll be taking it easy with them, but I know the Brumbies have indicated a lot of their players may start the game,” Gibson said.
“But it’s probably more likely the players that are training with us now, this is a good opportunity for them.
“But certainly a number of our guys that were on the spring tour will play.”
Gibson said his squad could already feel the love from the wider Mudgee community – with a stack of the Tahs’ best, including Wallaby prop Tom Robertson and rising lock Neg Hanigan, both from Dubbo, hailing from the far reaches of the central west region.
“We’ve heard a lot of great things about the town and particularly impressed with how much they’ve gotten behind the game,” he said.
“It’s creating a lot of community interest and we’ve got a lot of good things organised. We’re looking forward to it.
“We’ve heard great things about the facility at Glen Willow, and we’re hoping we can fill it. That’d generate a great atmosphere.
“It’s important we make the most of the Mudgee game.”