A two-year revolution within the Wallabies will be highlighted when Michael Cheika names his side for their opening Rugby World Cup Test against Fiji.
Cheika is set to go close to the team who stunned the All Blacks 47-26 in Perth last month, unquestionably their best performance in the four years since reaching the last Rugby World Cup final.
That 2015 team has undergone an upheaval, most significantly in the last two seasons as results dived. Last year they crashed to an unacceptable four win-nine loss return.
A host of players who started Australia’s most recent clash with Fiji, back in June 2017, have either been dropped or are in Japan but no longer ranked a starting player.
Of that team who outclassed the Fijians 37-14 in Melbourne, only captain Michael Hooper and prop Allan Alaalatoa shape as near-certainties to be included in Cheika’s run-on XV named on Thursday.
Experienced pair Bernard Foley and Will Genia were the starting halves and are options for Cheika this week but Christian Lealiifano and Nic White appear to have their noses in front.
The biggest head-scratcher is the back row, where David Pocock’s return could threaten the place of powerhouse blindside flanker Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.
Cheika and fellow-selectors Scott Johnson and Michael O’Connor must weigh up the merits of Pocock’s relentless breakdown presence and leadership versus the raw physicality and lineout qualities of Salakaia-Loto.
Right wing is another unstable position. Reece Hodge wore No.14 in Perth but Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dane Haylett-Petty are options.
The most glaring absentee from the team who last played Fiji is Israel Folau, embroiled in court action against Rugby Australia following his high-profile dismissal this year.
Folau was unstoppable against the Pacific islanders, scoring two trademark tries – one from a spectacular high-ball leap and the other via a scything 50m run – emphasising how much he could be missed in Japan
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