September 7, 2019 / 1:22 PM / 13 days ago

Rugby-Cheika in no hurry to decide on back row options for Japan

SYDNEY, Sept 7 (Reuters) - No sooner had David Pocock come safely through his first game since March on Saturday than Australia coach Michael Cheika was facing questions about the composition of his back row for the Rugby World Cup.

The 31-year-old openside flanker played nearly an hour of the 34-15 victory over Samoa at Western Sydney Stadium to end his six-month spell on the sidelines nursing a calf injury.

Cheika rested regular skipper Michael Hooper, who is also an openside flanker, so Pocock was able to wear the number seven shirt and play in tandem with number eight Jack Dempsey, who was also returning from injury, and blindside Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.

Pocock and Hooper, two of Australia’s best players, played together in an unconventional back row to great effect at the last World Cup in 2015 but Cheika was not prepared to commit to reuniting them in Japan.

“I’ve got a few options, obviously, and I’m not giving away too much, you know,” he told Fox Sports TV.

“I thought (Dempsey) was good first game back and I thought Lukhan played his best game in a while.

“I think he (Lukhan) has probably seen that challenge having played in some of those test matches now and Pocock’s back so I’ve got plenty to think about but it’s a good problem to have.”

“We know the different options we’ve got, we may go horses for courses but we’ll just see how it goes.”

Although most eyes were on how Pocock would cope with being thrust straight back into the test arena, there was some concern over Adam Coleman after the second row forward was forced off the field with a thumb injury.

“He could have dislocated it,” Cheika said of the lock, who scored the first of Australia’s six tries.

“It’s a bit sore now but he doesn’t think there’s anything too tragic so, yeah, he should be alright.”

There was also some concern about Australia’s goalkicking with flyhalf Bernard Foley, who came into the side for the equally misfiring Christian Leali’ifano, missing four of his six conversions.

“They’ll come good,” said Cheika. “It’s just about getting in behind the wheel. Bernard hasn’t kicked in a game for a while but he’s been kicking them like a champion in training.

“That’ll do him the world of good, we just have to let him get into the groove of things. Those guys are great kickers, when the heat’s on and goals are in high demand, they’ll be kicking them for sure.”

The coach said he had been pleased with the performance even if his side lost concentration and let the Samoans back into the contest in the second half.

The Wallabies leave for Japan on Monday and Cheika said they were entirely focused on their Pool D opener against Fiji in Sapporo on Sept. 21.

“Everyone can’t wait to get there and can’t wait for it to start,” Cheika said. “Get on the ground and rip in.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ken Ferris)

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