By Nick Mulvenney
OITA, Japan (Reuters) – Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he had no doubts at all about Jordan Petaia’s ability to rise to the occasion after selecting the teenager to play his first test at outside centre in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against England.
The 19-year-old, who made his test debut in the pool match against Uruguay, replaces James O’Connor to join Samu Kerevi in a centre partnership which will face off against England’s re-worked midfield of Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade.
“We didn’t sit back and earmark this game for him to come and play at 13,” Cheika told reporters on Thursday.
“We just watched the games and made the assessments of each player as they went along and there were things that we liked … and we felt that this would be a game that would suit him.
“I trust him infinitely and that’s why he’s been chosen.”
Reece Hodge will play outside Petaia on the right wing after being recalled following his three-match ban for a high tackle in Australia’s opener against Fiji, bringing with him long-range kicking skills that could be crucial in a tight match.
Inside Kerevi for Saturday’s game at Oita Stadium will be flyhalf Christian Lealiifano and scrumhalf Will Genia after Cheika tinkered with his halfback partnership for the fifth time in five matches.
“We’re pretty lucky in those departments you know, good options, I think it’s been so tight the battle,” Cheika said.
“I wasn’t in a losing position no matter who I picked, I felt.”
There was no tinkering in the back row, however, where the combination of opensides Michael Hooper and David Pocock on the side of the scrum will be complemented by the power of Isi Naisarani at number eight.
That combination can leave Australia short of lineout options but Cheika does have locks Adam Coleman and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto among the five forwards on the bench.
“We’ve been really pleased with the way all of our forwards are performing and there’s been a lot of consistency in that selection for what we think is our number one pack going into this game,” Cheika said.
“I don’t think we’ve had any doubts over that at all. The consistency in them will tell me that they’ll deliver again on Saturday.”
Kurtley Beale will start at fullback having completed the concussion protocols after suffering a head knock in Australia’s final pool match against Georgia last Friday.
“I think we all know the unpredictability of game that Beale can bring,” said Cheika.
“Mate, he’s jumping out of his skin to go, you know. I was just watching the training now. I’m a big believer in Beale, I know what he can bring to the game.”
Cheika has also given youth a chance on the bench with 23-year-old Taniela Tupou favoured over the experienced Sekope Kepu as back-up tighthead.
Scrumhalf Nic White and versatile backs O’Connor and Matt Toomua offer plenty of backline options off the bench.
Team: 15-Kurtley Beale, 14-Reece Hodge, 13-Jordan Petaia, 12-Samu Kerevi, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-Christian Lealiifano, 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-Taniela Tupou, 19-Adam Coleman, 20-Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21-Nic White, 22-Matt Toomua, 23-James O’Connor.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis)