White starts against Georgia

white rwc hat.jpg
Exeter Chiefs scrum-half Nic White is one of five players to have been retained in the Australian starting line-up for their Rugby World Cup clash with Georgia. Picture: Getty Images

By Mark Stevens

Australian coach Michael Cheika will rest captain Michael Hooper as part of ten changes he has made ahead of his side’s final Rugby World Cup pool match against Georgia on Friday.

A win for the Wallabies in Shizuoka will guarantee them a place in the quarter-finals against either England or France, who themselves clash in their final pool game 24 hours later.

Cheika appears confident enough through this latest selection that his squad will advance, but he has kept some key personnel in place, among them Exeter Chiefs star Nic White, who will start at scrum-half.

White, along with Jack Dempsey, Matt To’omua, Kurtley Beale and teenage sensation Jordan Petaia, are the handful of players who retain their place following Australia’s latest victory over Uruguay.

Addressing the media ahead of the game, Cheika dismissed fears that wrapping players in cotton wool could have a destabilising effect.

“One of the things that’s pretty clear with this team over the years is that we’ve been able to build a fair bit of depth,” said Cheika, who named Pocock as Wallabies skipper in the absence of Hooper.

“Different teams have different ideas but keeping players competing for spots is working for us. We’ve got the most-capped team here but part of the plan is to keep that competition and keep guys in the hunt. There’s no excuses — we’ve just got to concentrate more and take our opportunities.”

Petaia, Australia’s youngest ever World Cup player at 19, impressed against Uruguay, crashing over for one try and creating another, while To’omua has been moved from inside centre to fly-half, where he will link up with White for the first time, making it the 11th half-back pairing used by Australia since the 2015 World Cup.

“Consistency is probably something that’s eluded us over the last few years,” admitted Cheika, ahead of his country’s first-ever Test against Georgia. “But I still believe we can get better. The competition (for places) is sparking the players to want to do better. You see that really well between the half-backs.”

Up front, prop Sekope Kepu becomes only the sixth player to win 110 caps for Australia, who have been working on avoiding high tackles after coming under scrutiny in their first two games.

“One of the huge things that’s hurt us is penalties snuffing out our momentum,” said Cheika, who, already seething over a three-match ban on winger Reece Hodge after Australia’s win over Fiji, raged against the World Cup refereeing following defeat by Wales.

“We’ve got to go there targeting zero in that area. No matter how you see the pictures, the penalties are real. Whether truth or perception, we are getting the arm raised against us and getting players sent to the bench. It’s a reality — we’ve got to deal with it.”

Australia side to face Georgia 

15. Kurtley Beale
14. Jordan Petaia
13. James O’Connor
12. Samu Kerevi
11. Marika Koroibete
10. Matt To’omua
9. Nic White
1. Scott Sio
2. Tolu Latu
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Izack Rodda
5. Rory Arnold
6. Jack Dempsey
7. David Pocock (capt)
8. Isi Naisarani

16. Jordan Uelese
17. James Slipper
18. Taniela Tupou
19. Adam Coleman
20. Michael Hooper
21. Will Genia
22. Christian Lealiifano
23. Dane Haylett-Petty

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