In dropping Christian Leali’ifano, Kurtley Beale, and Nic White from the starting lineup to play Wales, Australia coach Michael Cheika said the moves were planned before the Rugby World Cup.
All three backs started in the comeback win over Fiji last weekend in Sapporo.
But Cheika decided Friday to turn back the clock to the 2015 World Cup — when Australia beat Wales 15-6, also in the pool stage — and start flyhalf Bernard Foley, scrumhalf Will Genia, Adam Ashley-Cooper on the right wing vacated by the suspended Reece Hodge, and with fullback Dane Haylett-Petty.
“They’re not form decisions,” Cheika said. “I just want to make a different picture for this game.
“I’m not going to talk about the picture I’m trying to create because I might as well go to the opposition and give them my notes. Not that that makes any difference, I suppose.”
Cheika said the balance at the start and off the bench was tailored to the opposition.
“I feel like this is a good combination for this game,” he said. “What’s also good about it is we’ve got Nic White, Kurtley Beale, Adam Coleman, Sekope Kepu, James Slipper, and Lukhan (Salakaia-Loto) coming to finish the game with the impact we’ll need to beat one of the top teams.”
Wales coach Warren Gatland, who picked the same starting XV which beat Georgia 43-14 on Monday, was only too happy to analyze Cheika’s choices for the game on Sunday in Tokyo, and was surprised by Foley.
“With Beale they lose a bit of their attacking threat because he is definitely an attacking threat for them,” Gatland said. “As in the past he will probably come off the bench relatively early and will be a handful for us.
“With Foley there they will probably kick a bit more than they have been. Their kicking percentage has been pretty low in recent internationals so we expect them to kick a bit more. Probably with the back three and Foley and Genia as well they will probably try to negate our kicking threat.”
Cheika said the coaches spelled it out to the Wallabies before the tournament how they were going to be used in what is a tough Pool D.
“They’re pieces of the puzzle,” he said. “As much as they all want to play, they know exactly where they’re at.”
Foley was the starting flyhalf in the run to the 2015 World Cup final, and has dropped in the pecking order of late to Leali’ifano.
“He’s trying to fight against the challenge Christian has brought to him, and Matty Toomua as well,” Cheika said. “He realizes, ‘I’ve got to lift my standard because this guy’s playing good footy.’ ”
Like Foley, Ashley-Cooper was another who wasn’t picked for the Fiji game. He will appear in his fourth World Cup, and Cheika welcomed his selection.
“He’s got a few more grey hairs, he thinks they make him look more distinguished. Personally, they just make him look older,” Cheika said. “He’s got that je ne sais quoi, he’s got that something that brings him up to the challenge. Maybe not going to be able to do it every week but when his team needs him I’m sure he’ll deliver because he’s preparing himself very well.
“He’s got a good presence with the other players, very similar to Christian (Leali’ifano), who has a really good calming presence on the field. Adam does the same for the players.”
Alun Wyn Jones will become Wales’ most capped player with 130 when he leads the team out, beating the record held by prop Gethin Jenkins.
The only change in the 23 was in the reserves, where center Owen Watkin replaced Leigh Halfpenny to cover the backs, especially with center Hadleigh Parkes carrying a small fracture in his hand.
Wales blew away Georgia 29-0 in the first half, and Gatland said they wanted to reward that.
“We felt we wanted to give that team an opportunity; we felt it was not fair to drop anyone,” he said.
Wales will be playing Australia in a seventh Rugby World Cup, but has not beaten the Wallabies since the first in 1987.
Australia: Dane Haylett-Petty, Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (captain), David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio. Reserves: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Nicholas White, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale.
Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones (captain) Jake Ball, Tom Francis, Ken Owens, Wyn Jones. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Owen Watkin.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5