NSW Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie has described the loss of lock Daniel Vickerman and utility back Mat Rogers as a major ‘dent’ in their 2007 Super 14 campaign but claims the gaps left in the team are an ‘opportunity for young players to step up’.
Vickerman was forced to return home from the Wallabies recent tour of Europe and the UK after injuring his shoulder in the match against Wales and will more than likely spend the bulk of the 2007 season on the sidelines after undergoing a shoulder reconstruction in December.
Meanwhile, the Australian Rugby Union last week granted Rogers an early release from his contract on ‘compassionate grounds’ after another devastating series of family issues with his brother taken to hospital suffering a suspected drug overdose.
This follows the unexpected death of his father earlier in the year and the death of his mother a few years ago from cancer.
These two losses, coupled with the suspension of blockbusting winger Wendell Sailor, who has been banned for two years after testing positive for cocaine in May, plus former skipper Chris Whittaker’s move to play rugby in the UK, has left the New South Wales line-up for 2007 a far different one from the 2006 line-up that contested the Super 14 semi-final.
"The loss of Vickerman, probably for the season, and now Rogers, has put a couple of dents in our top-end players," McKenzie told sportal.com.au
"So we are going to be relying more on our younger guys. But having said that, they have actually been training very well, so I can’t complain about their contribution.
"But the challenge is there for people to step up and fill the breach and I look forward to that. We have given plenty of young players a go over the last few years and quite a few of them have stepped up to national jumpers.
"I think we are very good at bringing in good young talent, so I look at the losses in the team as an opportunity for younger players to make a name for themselves."
The Waratahs completed their final training session for 2006 and will now disperse for the Christmas season, before returning to pre-season training on January 3, ahead of their opening trial match against the Brumbies in Wollongong on January 20.