The Waratahs face a serious injury crisis, less than a week out from their season opener against the defending Super Rugby champion Reds.
However, coach Michael Foley has put a positive spin on a casualty list that include half-a-dozen of the team's leading internationals.
Among those set to miss Saturday's Sydney derby are wings Drew Mitchell (out till at least April with an ankle injury) and Lachie Turner (season ending hamstring injury), lock Dan Vickerman (who may be forced to retire as a result of an ongoing bone stress to his right tibia) and captain Rocky Elsom (troublesome hamstring).
Add to that additional injury niggles to new recruit Adam Ashley-Cooper (leg) and stalwart Berrick Barnes (groin) and the Waratahs may lack the experience required to tackle a battle-gardened Reds outfit.
However, coach Michael Foley was confident at least some of his stars would be available for the opening round.
Barnes and Ashley-Cooper both failed to train with the team on Monday.
With Turner and Mitchell out for some time, Ashley-Cooper will be the only experienced campaigner among the Waratahs' back three
Barnes, who left the field early in last Friday's 52-0 win over Tonga, will be required to direct proceedings from flyhalf in a backline with a decidedly youthful look about it.
"A couple of guys had niggles and those guys did rehab today [Monday] in favour of being 100 percent fit for Saturday," Foley told AAP.
Asked specifically about Barnes, Foley said "we're hoping that everybody will train fully tomorrow [Tuesday]."
He was not overly concerned about Ashley-Cooper, who made his debut for the Waratahs against Tonga.
"In his first game he got through 60 minutes of work, and there's a couple of niggles out of that," Foley said.
In the absence of Turner and Mitchell, the Waratahs selectors will look at Tom Kingston and Brackin Karauria-Henry as their wing combination, to counter the Reds' Digby Ioane and Rod Davies.
While Barnes is expected be available this weekend, Foley said several positions would be difficult to select.
That includes who will be the team's playmaker.
''The guys who have really put their hands up in the trials were the three No.10s; Berrick, Daniel [Halangahu] and Bernard [Foley], who have all played really well for us,'' Foley told the Sydney Morning Herald.
''It's difficult to get three in the team, so that is going to be a challenge. Over the course of the season, I think all three will be seen.''
It would not be surprising if, by the end of the season, Bernard Foley plays regularly at No.10, with Barnes moved out one spot to inside centre.
* Meanwhile the Waratahs said no decision has been taken on the future of veteran lock Daniel Vickerman, who last week hinted that he may be forced into retirement as a result of an ongoing leg injury.
"Dan Vickerman has been receiving ongoing treatment and rehabilitation on his shoulder and lower leg," the Waratahs said in a statement at the weekend.
"He is making good progress from a shoulder reconstruction last year, with a return to full fitness predicted for April.
"He is also receiving treatment for ongoing bone stress to his right tibia. In 2010 he had a rod inserted into the bone which allowed him to participate in last year's World Cup, however, he is still suffering ongoing pain relating to a tibial stress fracture. Despite trying many therapeutic measures, Dan is still in considerable discomfort.
"Player welfare is our primary concern and injured players are constantly monitored and assessed during their rehabilitation and Dan is no different.
"As part of the tri-party arrangement, ARU and Waratahs are currently working together to fully assess his situation and the further treatment options available.
"Until this process has been finalised, no decision can be made regarding his future."
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