Mammoth winger Taqele Naiyaravoro is in the mix for a return to the Waratahs’ starting lineup to face the Hurricanes on Friday.
Naiyaravoro’s thumping “don’t argue” on Crusaders winger George Bridge on his way to a critical try against the Kiwis last Sunday was his second strong bench impact in as many weeks, after being influential against the Rebels.
And with the Hurricanes’ Julian Savea on the horizon, Naiyaravoro could be the weapon the Waratahs need on the edge, with his physicality and sheer size a point of difference.
Coach Daryl Gibson said Naiyaravoro’s fitness was still under question on Sunday and Malone said he had put himself in line for a promotion.
“He’s just working his way back into some form and fitness, ‘Big T’ and without question the last couple of performances off the bench – he was very good in the Rebels game coming off the bench also,” he said.
“He’s putting his hand up for selection and absolutely he comes right into contention for selection.
Malone said Naiyaravoro had answered the challenges set this season.
“We keep saying to the team it’s how you perform day-to-day, it’s not just what happens in the games and Taqele’s been really impressive over the last few weeks, so he’s definitely a chance,” he said.
“He’s doing well and he’s doing everything that’s asked of him and that’s all he can do.
Rob Horne and Bernard Foley both trained with the team on Tuesday, with Malone hinting the pair could be back for the Hurricanes clash.
Prop Tom Robertson is in doubt with a concussion, as the Waratahs’ five-day turnaround falls a day short of usual concussion protocols that mandate a six-day absence from rugby.
Paddy Ryan would likely come into the starting side, should Robertson be ruled out, with props Sam Needsl and Angus Taavao the other front rowers in the squad.
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While those selection considerations are in the back of minds, the immediate concern they need to address is winning.
Inaccurate in-field kicking cost the Waratahs against the Crusaders and they can’t afford to have that happen again with the defending champions some of the best counter-attackers in Super Rugby, averaging close to 50 points a game.
“Contestable kicking as a strategy’s a good strategy but you’ve got to get the contest,” he said.
“Ten metres too long too often plays right into the hands of teams like the Crusaders and the Hurricanes so you’ve got to get that right.
“It’s a new concept but as a tactic, it’s really effective done properly, but you’ve got to be able to do it properly.”
Malone said the solution was about finding composure under pressure..
“It’s a whole team thing, it’s about the chase, it’s about the execution of the kick, it’s about getting those things right under pressure in an environment which has had a lot of pressure on the weekend,” he said.
“Executing under pressure is part of the game and we’ll get better.”
Scrumhalf Jake Gordon admitted he was guilty of some miskicks against the Crusaders and wanted to set the record straight in Wellington.
“I probably can’t blame it on the weather conditions but my kicks weren’t probably good enough,” he said.
“I’ve got to make those more of a contest, I think that was probably the aim out of the review for me was probably putting my kicks on the money.”
The Waratahs travel to Wellington on Thursday, before Friday’s clash with the Hurricanes, kicking off at 5:35pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS.