Christian Lealiifano leading the race for Wallabies No. 10 jersey
Coach Michael Cheika says Christian Lealiifano has his nose in front for the Wallabies’ No.10 jersey at the Rugby World Cup, but has praised the demoted Bernard Foley.
Foley had been virtually unchallenged at five-eighth over the past three years as he locked down the position with a series of excellent displays at the 2015 World Cup.
He started the first test of this season but, for the past three tests, hasn’t even made the matchday 23, with leukaemia survivor Lealiifano playing at No.10 and Matt Toomua coming off the bench.
Asked if Lealiifano had the inside running going into the World Cup in Japan, Cheika said “it’s been competitive; he’s got his nose in front; he’s played the majority of games so far.
“But Foley is there and contesting at training and contributing in a big way – it’s a fine margin.
“Also Toomua, who I think in the last couple of games has also played very well as a finisher.
“He’s come in and got the team going forward; made a few line breaks himself.
“I think he has moved forward in that position so we’ve got good options there and that really good for us.”
Cheika commended 69-Test veteran Foley for how he had responded to his demotion.
“Doing extras, looking at the things that he thinks he needs to work on to get himself back in there and also working alongside Christian and Matt to prepare them for games as well in a really positive way,” Cheika said.
“It’s a very difficult thing for a guy like him who has probably been in that position relatively uncontested for a while, because (he) has been playing well.
“Now he’s got that competition, he has reacted well in both sides, from a team perspective and also from his individual routine in preparing to try and get the spot back.”
Cheika said it was important to strike the right selection balance between choosing speciality and versatility.
“We (selectors) will talk later on today and probably make some realistic calls over there, just to get a final opinion and see if he wants to be involved or not,” Cheika said.
Cheika said champion back-rower, David Pocock, who hadn’t played since March due to calf issues, would get some time in the September 7 Test against Samoa.
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