Australia and Fiji name sides ahead of Rugby World Cup Pool D encounter
Last Updated: 21/09/19 6:49am
David Pocock has been selected at No 6 for Australia's Rugby World Cup opener against Fiji in Sapporo on Saturday (kick-off 5.45am BST), meaning he will have played every position in the back-row at World Cups when his Test career ends in Japan.
Pocock last played at blindside flanker in 2016 but, in a move that underlines his value, coach Michael Cheika has made space for Pocock against Fiji ahead of usual starter Lukhan Salakaia-Loto. Captain Michael Hooper is at openside flank and Isi Naisarani at No 8.
"We have worked on the possibility of this type of combination for the last couple of weeks so we are pretty confident with them working well together," Cheika said.
"They have copped plenty and they are ready for the battle."
The 31-year-old Pocock missed the first half of the season with injury but returned to action in a warm-up game against Samoa, when he confirmed his decision to give up international rugby after the World Cup.
Cheika has also picked Christian Leali'ifano at fly-half against Fiji ahead of Bernard Foley, who was one of the stars of Australia's run to the final in 2015 but is left out of the 23.
Allan Alaalatoa has been handed a starting spot in the front row at tighthead, adding to his family's rugby legacy. His father, Vili, played for Western Samoa in the 1991 World Cup.
Reserve props James Slipper and Sekope Kepu have more than 200 Test caps combined and are on a heavily experienced bench that includes veteran scrum-half Will Genia. Genia and Kepu have also said they will retire from Tests after the World Cup.
Three of the Wallabies' starters No 8 Naisarani, wing Marika Koroibete and inside-centre Samu Kerevi were born in Fiji, adding a little extra spice to the encounter.
For Fiji, Semi Radradra, who played a rugby league game for Australia in 2016, starts on the wing and Australia-born Ben Volavola is named at fly-half.
Fiji's starting line-up contains three players who won gold medals when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. But Fiji's 15-man game, once given little attention because of the success of the sevens squad, is on its way up too after a landmark win over France in Paris last year.
Fiji will need to upset either Australia or Six Nations champions Wales to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2007.
"We have high ambitions in this World Cup," Fiji coach John McKee said. "We know we have big challenges with big teams in our pool but it's a great first match for us.
"A lot of Test match rugby is run in the close quarters and it's going to be a big game for both teams at the gain line and in both attack and defence.
"For us it'll be a game of limited opportunities and we have to make sure that we nail opportunities and turn them into points."
23-man squads for Saturday's Pool D clash:
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 James O'Connor, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Christian Leali'ifano, 9 Nic White; 1 Scott Sio, 2 Tolu Latu, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 4 Izack Rodda, 5 Rory Arnold, 6 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 8 Isi Naisarani.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Dane Haylett-Petty.
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Semi Radradra, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Frank Lomani; 1 Campese Ma'afu, 2 Samuel Matavesi, 3 Peni Ravai, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 7 Peceli Yato, 8 Viliame Mata.
Replacements: 16 Tuvere Vugakoto, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Mosese Voka, 21 Nikola Matawalu, 22 Alivereti Veitokani, 23 Vereniki Goneva.