Waratahs ready for hungry Western Force

NSW skipper Rob Simmons (l) returns for the Waratahs' clash against the Western Force on Friday.
NSW skipper Rob Simmons (l) returns for the Waratahs' clash against the Western Force on Friday.

They may be winless but there's no chance of the Western Force ambushing the NSW Waratahs in Friday night's Super Rugby AU clash on the Gold Coast.

"We'll be flying up there with a big bullseye on our chest," Waratahs coach Rob Penney said on Thursday.

Despite sitting last with just two bonus points from four outings since their return to the big stage, the Force have been anything but pushovers.

They led the Waratahs 14-0 last time around, almost toppled the Queensland Reds and took the Melbourne Rebels to extra time last start.

So Penney knows full well what the Waratahs are in for at Cbus Super Stadium.

"They've been really good, really competitive," he said.

"They've picked up a few good lads from around the place and getting an opportunity and showing their worth, which is great for Australian rugby big picture.

"And they've got some old Kiwi heads that I know pretty well that have added a little bit more steel and they'll be targeting us massively and looking at what they did last time against us and getting a lot of confidence out of that.

"They'll be desperate for a win. They won't want to be getting through the competition with a duck egg. They're a better side than that."

Coming off a record 45-12 win over the Reds, the third-placed Waratahs have been boosted by the return of skipper Rob Simmons from a broken rib.

The veteran Wallabies lock takes over the captaincy from Michael Hooper, while Penney has rested Ned Hanigan and prop Harry Johnson-Holmes to freshen up the forward pack for the six-day turnaround.

Hooper will be playing his 150th game for the Tahs but Penney said the Wallabies captain and dual John Eales Medallist didn't want any fanfare for the milestone.

"He's been tremendous for us and whether he's captain or not, he still has a massive leadership role for this group," the coach said.

"But 150 games, I don't know how many injury breaks he's had. Not many. He's just so resilient physically and mentally."

And in a feelgood story, experienced hooker Rob Abel has returned to the Waratahs' bubble after a stint doing youth work.

"It's been a tumultuous time for poor old Robbie," Penney said.

"This COVID thing has wreaked havoc across all the organisations and we're no different.

"So he was allowed some leave time for personal reasons around getting some work, some extra income for his family.

"But we reached a point where we needed him back."

Australian Associated Press