Wallabies go with Pooper combo
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: David Pocock will start alongside Australia captain Michael Hooper in the Wallabies’ back row.
The starting XV announced by coach Michael Cheika on Thursday – for their World Cup opener against Fiji in Sapporo on Saturday – is almost the same that inflicted a record 47-26 Bledisloe Cup defeat on world champions New Zealand in Perth last month.
The inclusion of flank Pocock – who has been struggling with a calf injury and will retire after the World Cup – the only change.
“I think with the first game of a World Cup, we went for a little bit more experience to be honest, just for this first one,” said Cheika, who took Australia all the way to the 2015 Final where they lost to New Zealand.
“They’ve done this before, the two boys playing together.
“We’ve worked on the possibility of this kind of combination for the last couple of weeks and they’ve been working well together,” Cheika told reporters after unveiling his side at the squad’s Sapporo hotel on Thursday.
“His [Pocock’s] selection is for this game and after that, we’ll work out a team for the next game.”
Both Hooper and Pocock are renowned for their expert work in slowing down and turning over opposition ball at the breakdown, which could prove important against a Fiji side that is at its best playing a quick-moving running game.
Cheika, however, insisted that the inclusion of the two loose forwards was not merely a defensive move on his part.
“I don’t know if it’s to slow them [Fiji] down,” he said.
“If they can get the ball off the ground, it’s a bonus.
“Rest assured, these players aren’t selected just for their play on the ground.
“There’s a lot of other facets to the game where they can contribute to the team, both in attack and defence.”
Meanwhile, lock Rory Arnold has overcome a hand injury that ruled him out of the second Bledisloe Cup clash in Auckland, which New Zealand won 36-0, while Nic White and Christian Lealiifano return at halfback after sitting out the Test against Samoa earlier this month.
“I think Nic and Christian, there’s been strong competition, between Nic and Christian, Bernard [Foley] and Matt To’omua also as well,” said Cheika.
“But I think in the Rugby Championship they showed enough to us about their composure, ability to adapt on the run, which I think will be big in this game and their ability to create play in both attack and defence. And they deserve the opportunity to play in game one.
“It’s tight competition. In a lot of positions for us it’s tight, which is good. It makes it tough when you are picking a team but it’s good for us because it will only help to push the standard of play up.”
Australia also faced Fiji in their 2015 World Cup opener, winning 28-13 in Cardiff.
The Wallabies play Wales in their second Pool D clash in Tokyo on September 29 before games against Uruguay and Georgia in Oita and Shizuoka on October 5 and October 11, respectively.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 David Pocock, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Dane Haylett-Petty.
Date: Saturday, September 21
Venue: Sapporo Dome, Sapporo
Kick-off: 13.45 (14.45 Australian Eastern Standard Time; 16.45 Fiji time; 04.45 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)