TOKYO (Reuters) - Australia coach Michael Cheika dropped a few selection bombshells on Friday when he brought scrumhalf Will Genia and flyhalf Bernard Foley into his team for Sunday’s blockbuster Rugby World Cup Pool D clash against Wales.
In other changes, Kurtley Beale was dropped to the bench with Dane Haylett-Petty coming in at fullback to face what is expected to be an aerial bombardment from the Six Nations champions at Tokyo Stadium.
Adam Ashley-Cooper replaced the banned Reece Hodge on the right wing and will win his 120th cap for his country in a match that is likely to decide which of the two countries tops the pool.
“Just a little bit of a different picture,” Cheika told reporters.
“I think we thought about this from the very start, not in response to the game at the weekend. We had a bit of a plan around the different pictures we wanted to produce. Reece (being) unavailable made us have to make another change.
“We know that Wales are a very strong team. We’re going to have to be on for 80 (minutes) to have success against them. We’ve picked a team we think will do that.”
Nic White and Christian Leali’ifano came into the tournament as the incumbent halfback pairing after firing Australia to a thumping victory over New Zealand in Perth and both started the opening victory against Fiji last weekend.
Genia made a big difference when he came off the bench to replace White in Sapporo, however, while Leali’ifano took a battering from the Fijians as Australia came from behind to win.
There is bound to be concern in Australia that Cheika has picked a team to nullify the threat posed by Wales rather than to impose, but he insisted the changes had been long planned.
“Not form decisions at all. It’s a different group of players and I’ve spoken to the players about that. They know what their jobs are, with their piece of the puzzle throughout the World Cup,” he added.
“And as much as they want to play - well, Kurtley is playing, he’s going to have a role in it - they understand exactly where we’re at and they’ve got their roles to fill.”
Foley had enjoyed an almost unbroken run in the side for five years until he was dropped for Leali’ifano this season and Cheika said he was sure the 30-year-old would take his opportunity.
“I obviously believe in him a lot. I’ve got a lot of history with him, and I think that he’s trying to fight against the challenge that Christian’s brought to him, and Matty Toomua as well,” he added.
“At the World Cup you’re not given anything, you’ve got to take everything. Here’s an opportunity, go and take it. I’m sure he’s in that mindset as well.”
Team: 15-Dane Haylett-Petty, 14-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13-James O’Connor, 12-Samu Kerevi, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-Bernard Foley, 9-Will Genia, 8-Isi Naisarani, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-David Pocock, 5-Rory Arnold, 4-Izack Rodda, 3-Allan Alaalatoa, 2-Tolu Latu, 1-Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16-Jordan Uelese, 17-James Slipper, 18-Sekope Kepu, 19-Adam Coleman, 20-Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21-Nic White, 22-Matt Toomua, 23-Kurtley Beale.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Amlan Chakraborty