NSW Waratahs halfback Nick Phipps says he can only afford to have one eye on Melbourne Rebels counterpart Luke Burgess in Friday night’s Super Rugby conference derby.
The scrumbase duel between the former Wallabies No.9s looms as a vital one at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, but Phipps knows it would be foolish to pay too much attention to Burgess.
The Rebels lured Burgess to Melbourne after his two-year stint in France, signing 37-Test veteran last season while Phipps was still with the club.
Phipps, though, insists he has nothing to prove and won’t be caught up in any man-on-man battles.
“I find that if I start to target the other halfbacks, I lose my own game,” Phipps said on Tuesday.
“So I’ll be looking forward to him playing his usual game, his running game, his run-at-all costs sort of game, getting on the front foot and looking forward to our boys marking up against him.
“Then I’ll be looking to take my opportunities when I get them.”
Of greater concern for Phipps is helping the Waratahs bounce back after being bumped off the top of the Australian conference ladder by last Saturday’s 28-23 loss to the Brumbies.
“I’ve got a lot of friends from the Rebels and a lot of friends down there in Melbourne still, but it’s just another game for me,” he said.
“It will be no different to playing the Reds or the Brumbies or anyone else.
“We’ve got a lot of redemption to do and this is another opportunity.”
The Waratahs are expecting the much-improved Rebels to be fired up for the derby.
“They’ll be confident and stinging to have a crack at us,” former Rebel Phipps said.
“I know they love travelling to Sydney. A lot of them are from Sydney so this is sort of like their home here, no matter what’s perceived.”
NSW coach Michael Cheika has reshuffled his pack for the match, relegating Benn Robinson to the bench after their last-up defeat in Canberra and promoting fellow Test prop Sekope Kepu to start at loosehead.
Cheika also benched Wycliff Palu on Tuesday, but said the move was more about managing the destructive No.8’s workload after several seasons undermined by injury.
“We’ve got to make sure that Cliff is used correctly,” Cheika said.
“We’re getting good value out of him at the moment.”
Skipper Dave Dennis has been shifted to No.8, South African Jacques Potgieter moves from lock to blindside flanker, and big Will Skelton has been promoted to partner Kane Douglas in the second row.
“We have the ability to keep the same intensity on the ball by changing the shape of the team a little bit and letting (Palu) come off the bench and finish the game.
“He’ll definitely contribute a fair bit. I’m not looking to rest him or anything.”