Wallabies’ Cup opener selection stunners
AUSTRALIA have dropped a couple of selection shocks for their all-important World Cup opener against Fiji.
The Wallabies were the runners up at the last event on the back of a powerhouse performance from fly half Bernard Foley, but the Waratahs star has been the unlucky man left out of the opener.
Instead, Brumbies star Christian Lealiifano will take his place as the starting No. 10 alongside Nic White, the same pairing that delivered Australia the stunning 47-26 win over New Zealand in Perth during the Bledisloe Cup.
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It was a headache the team knew it would have to face with three fly halves - Lealiifano, Foley and Matt Toomua - all selected in the squad.
Toomua, who can also play inside centre, was selected on the bench for the Wallabies' tournament opener.
The big call comes after former Wallabies fullback turned broadcaster Greg Martin said Chieka has a "slight bias" and would likely fall back on Foley to guide his side.
"A coach always remembers back to when the moments were tough 'this bloke got me there' but the reality is, Bernard Foley hasn't been at his best this year," Martin said.
"Christian Lealiifano has edged ahead of him and his combination with Nic White is pretty good, they played together at the Brumbies and that's got to count for something."
The other big selection call was the news David Pocock and Michael Hooper will combine in the back row for the first time this year.
Pocock has missed most of the season because of injury but returned in a warm up match against Samoa and did enough to earn his place in the back row at the expense of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.
He'll start at No. 6 for the first time since 2016, and will become the fourth Wallaby to start at No. 6, 7 and 8 during the World Cup.
Hooper will start on the open side and Salakaia-Loto is expected to come in off the bench. Two of the best open side flankers in the game, Pocock and Hooper have regularly combined in the back row to give Australia speed to the breakdown.
"We are hungry to play our best rugby," Cheika said after the selection. "We want to do two things - our best to win the tournament, and we want to show young people in Australia how beautiful the game can be."
Allan Alaalatoa got a starting spot in the front row for Australia, adding to his family's rugby legacy.
His father, Vili, played for Western Samoa in the 1991 World Cup.
Reserve props James Slipper and Sekope Kepu have more than 200 test caps combined and are on a heavily experienced bench that also includes veteran scrumhalf Will Genia.
Three of the Wallabies' starters - No. 8 Isi Naisarani, winger Marika Koroibete and inside centre Samu Kerevi - were born in Fiji.
Cheika has also brushed off talk from Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle that anything short of a spot in the World Cup Final would be a failure for the team.
He has reportedly said he would stand down from the team if they didn't bring home the trophy and he replied that's why the team was in Japan.
"You know that I'm coming here to win with our team. That's it," he said on Thursday.
"I love what I do, I'm prepared to take responsibility and accountability and always have been with everything I do. I'm not being judged by anyone except myself."
Fiji head coach John McKee said there's a strong sense of belief within his squad, which is aiming to upset either Australia or Six Nations champion Wales to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
"We have high ambitions in this World Cup. We know we have big challenges with big teams in our pool but it's a great first match for us," McKee said. "A lot of test match rugby is run in the close quarters and it's going to be a big game for both teams at the gain line and in both attack and defence. "For us it'll be a game of limited opportunities and we have to make sure that we nail opportunities and turn them into points." ---
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, 6. David Pocock, 5. Rory Arnold, 4. Izack Rodda, 3. Allan Allalatoa, 2. Tolu Latu, 1. Scott Sio.
Reserves: 16. Jordan Uelese, 17. James Slipper, 18. Sekope Kepu, 19. Adam Coleman, 20 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21. Will Genia, 22. Matt Toomua, 23. Dane Haylett-Petty.
Fiji: 15. Kini Murimurivalu, 14. Josua Tuisova, 13. Waisea Nayacalevu, 12. Levani Botia, 11. Semi Radradra, 10. Ben Volavola, 9. Frank Lomani, 8. Viliame Mata, 7. Peceli Yato, 6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5. Leone Nakarawa, 4. Tevita Cavubati, 3. Peni Ravai, 2. Samuel Matavesi, 1. Campese Ma'afu.
Reserves: 16. Tuvere Vugakoto, 17. Eroni Mawi, 18. Manasa Saulo, 19. Tevita Ratuva, 20. Mosese Voka, 21. Nikola Matawalu, 22. Alivereti Veitokani, 23. Vereniki Goneva.
- with AAP