Friday’s Rugby News looks at the Wallabies, Fiji, Tonga at the World Cup and, Castle on the next Wallabies Coach!
A Couple Of Surprises For The Wallabies
By now you would have laid eyes on the Wallaby side to face Fiji tomorrow and either be quietly happy with the return of the Pooper or seething with anger with the return of the Pooper. I find myself, slightly, in the second group I guess. I can see the dual openside working against Fiji but come the time we face up against a top-flight lineout or a muscled up back row, or both, I can see things going to poo, without the per.
- The Pooper (Pocock/Hooper) backrow has been selected with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto dropping to the bench. Completing the starting backrow is Isi Naisarani, whose name sounds like its been taken from the dialogue of a certain hateable character from The Phantom Menace.
- Folau Fainga’a has been overlooked in the 23 in favour of the less experienced Jordan Uelese, where as Taniela Tupou has made way for the more experienced Sekope Kepu.
- Nic White and Christian Lealiifano are chosen to start in front of Will Genia and Bernard Foley, with only the former being named on the bench.
- Former NRL player Semi Radradra has been named on the wing for Fiji.
The starting side is almost a replica of the one that ran out in Perth in the record defeat of New Zealand last month, with David Pocock’s inclusion at flanker the only change to the team that took the field for the opening Bledisloe Cup Test.
Rory Arnold has overcome a hand injury that ruled him out of the second Bledisloe Cup clash in Auckland while Nic White and Christian Lealiifano return in the halves after sitting out the Test against Samoa earlier this month.
The starting side boasts 600 caps of Test experience between them with a further 436 caps amongst the reserves.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said: “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.
Who Are These Fijians Anyway?
Luckily Nathan Williamson and The Guardian have done the research for us and frankly, this is not the easy lead into the world cup many are expecting. This is not the Fiji from ten years ago but the Fiji who’s players, mostly, trade their wares in Europe’s top competitions. Who are used to professional setups. Who is ranked ninth in the world! Only three positions below us and above Japan, Argentina and, fellow group D member Georgia.
Nathan reckons we should look out for
The Racing 92 superstar was named European Player of the Year last season after an impressive campaign which saw the 31-year-old lead the Parisians the Champions Cup final. Nakarawa is among four Fiji squad members at the World Cup who also won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and he will have to draw on this experience, along with his freakish length and speed if they want to cause a boil-over.
Over at the Guardian Kelvin Anthony says,
But Japan 2019 is Fiji’s time. They will feature in their pack some of the biggest stars in rugby. They enter rugby’s showpiece tournament with depth, experience and form – a team with firepower across the pitch.
Players such as Leone Nakarawa, Peceli Yato, Semi Kunatani, Viliame Mata will lead from the front for the halves duo, Frank Lomani and Ben Volavola, to let loose the menace contained in the backline in the form of Semi Radradra, Josua Tuisova, Levani Botia, Waisea Nayacalevu, and Filipo Nakosi.
Fiji have taken huge strides in recent years, beating Scotland on home soil and France in Paris. They outmuscled the Maori All Blacks, beating them for the first time since 1957, in June.
They did falter in the process, defeated by an excellent Japanese side in Tokyo in the Pacific Nations Cup, which highlighted areas Fiji needed to brush up on before this tournament. The Pacific Nations also allowed them to try different strategies and player combinations.
In their final Test before the World Cup, Fiji overcame Tonga in a physical battle. These gains have planted a seed in the minds of Fijian fans. There is an expectation that this team will deliver.
All this makes this Wallaby fan a little nervous.
Tonga In Fine Voice
All over Japan, the locals have been embracing the teams based in their local area. The Wallabies are overwhelmed with their welcome in Odawara. The Wales side had 15000 locals turn up for a training session! Now there is news of the Tongan ‘Ikale Tahi impressing the locals with there singing.
Tonga’s singing at #RWC2019 is an incredible thing.
Amazing moment. pic.twitter.com/cj4iVooCCl
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 17, 2019
The Tongans are in pool C and face One of the tournament favourites first up in England but that won’t stop the people of Kochi loving every minute of their stay.
Only The Final Will Do For Raelene
Look don’t get me wrong, I want the Wallabies to do well this World Cup but I’m ready to move on from the Michael Cheika coaching era. This supposed to be his last hurrah in Australia’s top rugby job but, along the way, I’ve heard snippets of news saying that Michael would consider staying on if things went well in Japan.
And I’m not okay with that! And that’s why when Raelene Castle says only making the final would be a pass mark for the Wallabies it eases my concerns a little.
“When your previous performance was a World Cup final, that is everyone’s expectation,” Castle told the Sydney Morning Herald at the launch of a limited edition $2 Wallabies coin.
“We know that and we know fans want to see the Wallabies turn up in the final. That would be amazing.”
Castle said the internal expectation within the Wallabies is that they can go one better than their defeat in the 2015 final at the hands of the All Blacks. Doing so would net each player a $125,000 bonus.
“I know the team want that and the team want to go one better,” Castle said. “Certainly that is the internal expectation of the team and that is what they have been working towards and building towards for the last four years.
“I know the fans expectations are no different and we are really confident that they will get there.”
Whether Castle’s confidence in Cheika’s men is justified remains to be seen but pass mark aside, the RA boss stressed the importance of capitalising on the interest the World Cup generates through consistent Wallabies performances in the next few years.
For me, the part in bold is the key. Limping along with a 50% win-loss record is not going to cut it. Going deep into the tournament makes it more likely. But as a life long fan that’s exactly what I want.