The Fiji Times

NAWAQANITA­WASE ON THE RISE

- STUFF

THE next generation of Waratahs have given even the most disillusio­ned NSW fan something to get excited about ahead of the Super Rugby season after pulling off a 40-21 trial victory over the Highlander­s at Sydney's Leichhardt Oval on Friday night.

Without the experience­d Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Jack Dempsey and Rob Simmons left off the teamsheet, a fresh-faced side of NSW up-and-comers threw caution to the wind in wet conditions and rallied from 14-7 down at halftime to storm home, with silky fullback Mark Nawaqanita­wase the absolute standout.

The electric young fullback was exuberant with ball in hand and oozed confidence. He has a sizzling step and you can understand why comparison­s are being drawn between the 19-yearold and a player who won't be around this season, Israel Folau.

There were a number of flick passes that landed on teammates' chests that evoked a few “oooos” from a reasonable crowd in the stands.

Nawaqanita­wase is so young he could once again run out for the Junior Wallabies, and if he does make his Super Rugby debut this season, commentato­rs all around the traps ought to get used to pronouncin­g that seven-syllable surname (Nah-WANG-gah-KNEE-tah-WAH-zay).

His performanc­e was so impressive that head coach Rob Penney said afterwards there was “no doubt” the prodigious back would come into the reckoning for Super Rugby selection in round one.

“He's a gem, that kid,” Penney said.

“He's got a lot going for him and it's going to be a real pleasure and privilege to be a part of the young man's developmen­t, over the next couple of years anyway, because he has got some gifts. As you saw, he is unfazed by the step up, which is a wonderful attribute.”

Young back-rower Carlo Tizzano bagged a double as the Waratahs chalked up six tries to the three in a performanc­e the doctor urgently ordered after an ordinary 2019 campaign.

“All in all for a first hit-out, pretty pleasing. I think there was a genuine effort to play what was in front of them, and there were some outstandin­g facets of play.

“I'm rapt with the calibre of talent that is there, and it has reinforced to me how far this group could go given a bit more experience and time.”

Penney said players had got through unscathed to the best of his knowledge despite some usual bumps and bruises.

Starting five-eighth Mack Mason trotted around for the first 40 minutes and looked assured, while Karmichael Hunt threw an intercept pass in the third minute that put the Waratahs on the back foot straight away.

Harry Johnson-Holmes scored the Waratahs' only try of the first half before an injury scare but was given the all-clear.

When Tizzano got up off the deck and streaked away to score, the Waratahs trailed by just a couple of points before reserve playmaker Will Harrison missed a conversion.

However, Harrison, a 20-year-old Randwick product and last year's Junior Wallabies No.10, made up for it minutes later by putting in a beautiful cross-field kick that looped over to winger Alex Newsome, who dived over in the left corner.

A successful conversion put NSW ahead 19-14 and they held a 26-21 lead with 20 minutes to go after Tizzano scored his second five-pointer by swooping on a ball from an overthrown line-out.

Late tries to Michael McDonald and James Ramm put the icing on the cake for the baby Waratahs, many of whom are playing with real confidence.

Penney described the side's scrum as a “weapon,” while new defence coach Phil Bailey will be thrilled about the extra dose of aggression in defence.

Given the Waratahs have leaked 50 or more points in the last three of these trials against the Highlander­s, Bailey will be chuffed his lads only let in three tries on an evening that has certainly generated real optimism as the season approaches.

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