By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s selectors should give serious thought to starting utility Matt Toomua at flyhalf against Wales after his bright performance off the bench against Fiji, according to World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer.
Toomua, who has played mostly in the centres through his 48 tests, replaced starting number 10 Christian Leali’ifano near the hour-mark and showed impressive poise as the Wallabies rallied to overhaul Fiji 39-21 at Sapporo.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has had Toomua replace Leali’ifano as a “finisher” in four of the last five tests but Dwyer felt the 29-year-old was ready to step up on the biggest stage against Wales at Tokyo Stadium in their second Pool D clash on Sunday.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Toomua started against Wales,” Dwyer, who guided Australia to its first World Cup win in 1991, told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
“I thought he looked good when he came on.
“(Australia) changed the way they were playing, they kept it much, much tighter.”
Dwyer is not Toomua’s only backer, with Australian media lavishing praise on the Melbourne Rebel player for his defensive skills and courage taking the ball to the beefy Fijian line.
Behind Leali’ifano, Bernard Foley, who played the pivotal position at the 2015 World Cup, is Australia’s only specialist flyhalf in the squad but has been out of favour since defeat away to South Africa in July.
Pundits have also called for change at scrumhalf after Will Genia came off the bench to replace Nic White and made an immediate impact in steadying the Wallabies’ game against the Flying Fijians.
But Dwyer felt White deserved another chance, having been the form player during the Rugby Championship in the leadup to Japan.
“Whichever way you look at it, Nic’s presence has caused Will Genia to lift his game,” he said.
“If that’s the least outcome, that’s a good thing.”
Reece Hodge’s citing for a high tackle on Fiji flanker Peceli Yato has thrown the composition of the Wallabies’ outside backs into the air, with the winger facing possible suspension.
Cheika could look at starting Dane Haylett-Petty in the back three, with his height and aerial skills able to help the team cope with the high balls booted by Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar, Dwyer said.
“I think that tinkering with the team is useful because we’ve got to keep people getting game time so we can have everyone ready if and when required,” he added.
“I thought the pack went pretty well against Fiji. So we don’t need to worry too much about it but I think we could tinker a bit with the backs.”
The Wallabies’ fumbling start against Fiji, particularly in the first half, raised alarm bells in Australia before two tries from lineout drives steadied the ship.
Dwyer said Fiji’s physicality would prove a handful for any side at the World Cup, however, and Australia should feel satisfied to have built some momentum ahead of facing Six Nations champions Wales.
“The impacts at the tackle (against Fiji) were huge, as big as you’ll get in the tournament, I reckon,” the 78-year-old said.
“And we weathered that storm and came away with quite a convincing win in the end.
“Is that (performance) enough to win the World Cup? No. Is it a good performance on which to build? Yes.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)