Australia coach Michael Cheika has opted for twin openside flankers in David Pocock and Michael Hooper for their Rugby World Cup Pool A opener against Fiji at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday.
Despite that clear element of forward planning, Cheika said he had been working on the basis of taking not only one game at a time, but one day at a time with thoughts of the clashes against England and Wales kept on the back burner.
Referees and the television match official have been thrust into the spotlight in the opening days at the World Cup in England.
Breakdown specialists Pocock and Hooper, who are both normally No.7s, were sensational in the way they took it in turns to attack the breakdown as Australia seized the Rugby Championship last month by dethroning New Zealand with a stunning victory in Sydney. “I am certainly not going to take my eye off the ball”.
“England is my favourite (to win), but when you play in your home country, you get put under a lot of pressure”, he says.
“What I don’t believe in is making stuff up just to talk to a player”, he said.
Cheika said he was very comfortable with Pocock playing No.8.
Cheika refused to say which way he was leaning over his all-important halves combination with Will Genia and Nick Phipps battling for the starting half-back role and Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper for the five-eighth berth.
One of the biggest crackdowns has been on headlocks, with players being penalised if they are seen to be grab opponents around the neck or head when trying to remove them from rucks or mauls.
The XV boasts 720 caps, the Wallabies’ second most experienced lineup for a World Cup match after the 798 caps who started against Japan in 2007. “And now there’s an opportunity that they probably didn’t think they’d ever get, to work together, which they’ve enjoyed”. “I don’t think he’ll be right for the first game but he should be OK for the second game”.
The team to meet Fiji was different by only four players: The incoming were locks Kane Douglas and Rob Simmons, who played in the final warm-up match against the United States in Chicago on September 5, scrumhalf Will Genia, and Rob Horne on the left wing instead of Drew Mitchell.
“I just see that he (Douglas) is coming into some nice fitness now”.
But Cheika said he’d never been one to select teams along state lines.
But far from hurting his World Cup chances, as was initially predicted, Cheika argues the time spent in recovery has sharpened the dynamic playmaker and made him an irresistible selection – even if Phipps pushed him all the way.
“When I look back, you kind of just went through the tournament as another series of games”, Genia said of the 2011 campaign. For me, Skelton has done an absolutely outstanding job – really, for his age, the way he’s come through the system and what he’s been able to bring to worldwide football at such a young age in his position has been excellent.