Key Wallabies selection calls ahead of Rugby World Cup opener

The Wallabies set up camp in Odawara, in the shadow of Mount Fuji, at the start of the week and have since begun acclimatising to Japan's warm autumn conditions ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Michael Cheika's 31-man squad - plus change - hit the training paddock at 8am on Wednesday morning with the mercury at 30 degrees amid 85 percent humidity.

The first couple of weeks of the tournament will really test the players' fitness levels while handling will also be a challenge given the amount of perspiration that could find its way onto the ball.

The Wallabies' opening clash, against Fiji in Sapporo on Saturday week, is likely to be played at a furious early pace with both teams keen to play running rugby.

Read on as we break down the Wallabies' remaining selection calls below.


The often-volatile Tolu Latu is the incumbent after starting both of the back-to-back Bledisloe Cup Tests in August, and he looks likely to retain the No. 2 jersey next Saturday. Thankfully there were no signs of the brain explosions that have previously seen him earn 10-minute breathers in either of those trans-Tasman contests, while his lineout throwing was also generally good. The one ace up Folau Faingaa's sleeve however, could be his excellent command of the rolling maul which brought about the majority of his 11 tries in Super Rugby this year. The Wallabies' 2015 World Cup opener was also played against Fiji and John McKee's side had few answers to Australia's rolling maul, which netted David Pocock two tries. Still, it's hard to see Latu demoted after his efforts last month; discipline has long been his Achilles heel and, for now, it seems he may finally be on top of it.

No. 6

Lukhan Salakai-Loto started all five of the Wallabies' Tests over the past two months, finishing with a busy performance against Samoa at Bankwest Stadium last week. It was in that 34-15 victory that he played alongside Pocock, the man most likely to see him demoted to the bench next week. Salalakai-Loto has certainly proven his worth as a back-rower this season after working hard on his body over the offseason while his ball-carrying ability will be vital in a fortnight's time against Wales. But for a clash that will be played at high speed with a lot of quick ruck ball, Pocock's inclusion would give the Wallabies an added presence on the ball at the breakdown. What they might lose in ball-carrying they would gain in turnover opportunities while Pocock is another player with experience at the tail of a driving maul. Salakai-Loto could then come off the bench alongside Jack Dempsey, meaning the Wallabies would have lock and back-row well covered.


Will Genia looked sharp against Samoa last week but it's hard to see him dislodging Nic White as the Wallabies' scrum-half after the Exeter man made such an impression during the Rugby Championship. The All Blacks certainly adjusted their ruck defence to thwart his impact in Bledisloe II, but there was a lot to like about White's performances beforehand. There are bound to be some early nerves in Sapporo and the Wallabies may just need to steady before they really look to move the ball and for that White's strong kicking game would be a bonus. Genia could then come off the bench and provide a real shot of energy as Cheika looks for impact from his "finishers".

No. 10

Fly-half remains the Wallabies' biggest concern with neither Christian Leali'ifano nor Bernard Foley producing the kind of commanding performance the selectors would have liked to see in the lead-up. Leali'ifano certainly enjoyed some good moments against Argentina in Brisbane and then again in Perth against the All Blacks, but he completely lost his way in Bledisloe II as he missed two early penalties and compounded that with a dreadful midfield kick that Beauden Barrett turned into a try for George Bridge. Foley himself could only land one of five conversions against Samoa, while he was disadvantaged by having the steadier Matt To'omua outside him rather than the man who has been in superb form all year: Samu Kerevi. Still, Foley hasn't for some time looked like the same player who was, outside of Dan Carter, the standout fly-half of the 2015 tournament.

No. 13

The selectors suddenly have an array of options here, even with Jordan Petaia still sidelined by injury. The boom Reds youngster had been earmarked for a start at 13 against Samoa, only for him to pick up a hamstring injury during the Wallabies camp in Noumea. That created an opportunity for Adam Ashley-Cooper to start and the veteran made the most of the opportunity by scoring a try and generally defending stoutly throughout. Tevita Kuridrani, meanwhile, has returned to full fitness and is available, though his case could be hurt by the fact he hasn't played since the July 27 clash with Argentina in Brisbane. It therefore looks like a battle between Ashley-Cooper and O'Connor with the latter's added speed perhaps just giving him the edge. Ashley-Cooper's versatility on the bench would be a bonus, but only if the Wallabies opt for a 5-3 split, something Salakai-Loto's selection as a replacement would allow them to do.

Predicted Wallabies starting XV: Beale, Hodge, O'Connor, Kerevi, Koroibete, Leali'ifano, White; Naisarani, Hooper, Pocock, Rodda, Arnold, Alaalatoa, Latu, Sio. Replacements: Faingaa, Tupou, Slipper, Salakai-Loto, Dempsey, Genia, To'omua, Ashley-Cooper.