Kurtley Beale will come into the starting XV at No.12, with Karmichael Hunt shifting a position wider to outside-centre.
Last week’s No.13, Adam Ashley-Cooper, is still undergoing concussion protocols and will travel with the team. He is bracketed with Cam Clark on the bench and a decision will be made later in the week as to whether he will be right to play. Despite early concerns, Gibson seemed more optimistic about his availability on Wednesday.
“Part of our thinking process was keeping the team as stable as possible and trying to build those combinations as we move into the season,” Gibson said. “With Karmichael and KB in the middle, we believe we have a nice balance there and we’d like to see how that develops.”
Beale and Hunt have played together three times before, on the Wallabies’ 2017 spring tour. The latter came off the bench against Wales, England and Scotland in games where Beale filled in for Israel Folau at fullback.
These are two players whose fondness for taking on the line is matched by their flair with ball in hand.
The two key questions to be answered will be whether there is rustiness on Beale’s part given he has not played any minutes this year and whether Hunt can handle the defensive intricacies of outside-centre.
Against the Sunwolves, a team they have scored 50 points or more against on every occasion since their introduction to Super Rugby in 2016, the Waratahs see an opportunity get their attack flowing and eradicate poor discipline.
“We were a bit clunky with our attack on the weekend,” Gibson said. “[I am] certainly not happy with where we’re at there and it’s a good opportunity to try and build and get our game going.
“[There were] a number of stupid errors around individuals and we’ve talked extensively around those. We’re building excellent pressure with our defence and we’re letting teams off the hook there and we need to be better.”
The Waratahs conceded 14 penalties at Brookvale Oval, which had captain Michael Hooper pulling his hair out.
NSW might be able to get away with a similar performance against the Sunwolves and pull off a win but creating better habits is top of the priority list in Japan.
“It allowed the Hurricanes to get in there and apply a lot of pressure for us in the back of the game,” Hooper said. “You go up there [to Tokyo] blasé about things and they will make you pay.”
Gibson and Hooper will celebrate their 50th games as Waratahs coach and captain, respectively.
Waratahs team to face Sunwolves in Tokyo
(1-15): Harry Johnson-Holmes, Damien Fitzpatrick, Sekope Kepu, Jed Holloway, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (c), Jack Dempsey, Jake Gordon, Bernard Foley, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Karmichael Hunt, Alex Newsome, Israel Folau.
Bench: Tolu Latu, Rory O’Connor, Chris Talakai, Lachlan Swinton, Will Miller, Mitch Short, Mack Mason, Cam Clark/Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald