YOKOHAMA (Reuters) - Australia are expecting the halfback combination of Bernard Foley and Will Genia to be available for next week’s match against Wales at the Millennium Stadium after they missed the nine-try rout of Japan on Saturday.
An illness for flyhalf Foley and a calf strain for scrumhalf forced coach Michael Cheika to rejig his backline for the test against the Brave Blossoms and he was overall pleased with what the makeshift side produced in the 63-30 victory.
“We had moments that were really good and moments that were less effective but we’ve had a huge week where we’ve lost players and we’ve travelled overseas to a new place,” Cheika told reporters.
“We managed the first part of the game really well, which got us into a position where we could try some new combinations so it was a good entree into the rest of the tour.”
Rugby league convert Karmichael Hunt, who provides Cheika with an option at fullback in place of the rested Israel Folau, is also expected to be available to face Wales in Cardiff after missing the Yokohama match with a neck injury.
With Hunt unavailable Cheika had to use Kurtley Beale in the number 15 shirt and give a first test start at flyhalf to centre-winger Reece Hodge.
“I thought Japan tested him with line speed many times and he made some good decisions,” Cheika said of the 23-year-old, who converted all nine tries.
“Still a long way to go, but a great start for him in that number 10 jersey. I was very happy with his game.”
Australia have beaten Wales in their last 12 meetings going back to 2009 and will again face the men in scarlet in the pool stage of the 2019 World Cup.
Ten of those wins have been by 10 points or fewer, however, and Cheika was not delighted that Japan forwards had been able to score three tries from close range in the second half.
“We need to tighten ... the goal line defence in particular - that’s where we struggled,” said Cheika.
“In the outfield we were very good, but in the goal line I felt we took our eye off the ball.”
The Wallabies will take a six-match unbeaten run to Europe, where they also face England and Scotland, after having beaten New Zealand in their last fixture of the year on home soil.
After a pretty miserable run of results in the 18 months up to the middle of August, however, Cheika is keen for the Wallabies to develop the sort of consistency of performance that has long set apart the All Blacks.
In that context, he was particularly pleased that in the latter stages of the match, even with a big lead on the board and a few unfamiliar combinations on the pitch, the Wallabies had stuck to the gameplan.
“We didn’t just start doing anything that was out of what we’d normally do, because that’s what we’ve got to do in the games that are a bit tighter,” he said.
Writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty