David Pocock and Michael Hooper will team up alongside one another for the first time this year after Michael Cheika opted for their twin breakdown threat for Australia’s World Cup opener against Fiji.
Pocock’s move to No. 6 at the expense of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Rory Arnold’s return at lock are the only two starting changes to the side that was beaten 36-0 by the All Blacks in Bledisloe II. Cheika had rested a number of players for the final warm-up clash against Samoa on September 7, a match in which Pocock at last made his return from a troublesome calf injury.
And the veteran Wallabies flanker clearly did enough in his 58 minutes to prove he was ready for the intensity of the World Cup and to take his place alongside Hooper in the Wallabies back-row, four years after their “Pooper” combination had been so successful at the 2015 tournament.
Cheika said the Wallabies had come to Japan to play an attacking game of rugby, which the warm conditions should allow them to do.
“Our goal is to win. I’m sure every team comes to every World Cup believing they can win, and that’s what makes it such a great tournament.
“We want to do two things; to do our best to win the tournament but also to show young people in Australia who are watching, how beautiful the game of rugby can be and inspire them to play rugby back home in the future,” Cheika said.
Meanwhile, Fiji coach John McKee has named former rugby league international Semi Radradra on the wing against Australia after making all of his previous six test starts at centre.
The 27-year-old Radradra mostly played on the wing during a rugby league career that saw him play tests for both Fiji and Australia before he switched to union in 2017.
He had been preferred by McKee at centre since making his rugby union test debut against Georgia last year.
McKee named an otherwise settled side that included a big forward pack for a match in which the breakdown is expected to be crucial. Captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu leads an experienced loose forward trio that includes Viliame Mata and Peceli Yato.
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Christian Lealiifano, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (capt), David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio. Res: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Dane Haylett-Petty.
Fiji: Kini Murimurivalu, Josua Tuisova, Waisea Nayacalevu, Levani Botia, Semi Radradra, Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani, Viliame Mata, Peceli Yato, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Leone Nakarawa, Tevita Cavubati, Peni Ravai, Sam Matavesi, Campese Ma’afu, Replacements: Veremalua Vugakoto, Eroni Mawi, Manasa Saulo, Tevita Ratuva, Mosese Voka, Nikola Matawalu, Alivereti Veitokani, Vereniki Goneva