Cheika snubs veteran amid mass changes
MATT Toomua has jumped into surprise calculations to play five-eighth for the Wallabies' sudden-death quarter-final at the Rugby World Cup after being handed the prized No.10 jersey for Friday night's dress rehearsal against Georgia.
Starting three different five-eighths in four games at a World Cup is unheard off for a top nation. Not settled so close to the business end of the tournament or sharply picked on form?
Debate will go both ways.
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The significance of the call cannot be overstated because overlooking Bernard Foley completely signifies that the 71-Test former kingpin has tumbled to No.3 in the pecking order at five-eighth at this tournament.
Christian Lealiifano is on the bench for the clash against Georgia on Friday and will get game time at five-eighth as well.
Lealiifano is Australia's first choice and top goalkicker for the quarter-final but in these changing times a big Toomua display could change things.
Lealiifano's playing time is being managed, in part because the rigours of back-to-back Tests with a short six-day turnaround would risk the cancer survivor being a little more exposed to being rundown.
Foley may not now play again at the tournament.
Toomua is starting at No.10 for the first time this year, having finished last season at five-eighth for the Wallabies' tour clashes against Italy and England in Europe.
He has had consistent time off the bench with halfback Nic White and replacement Will Genia so those partnerships have been grooved all season.
Cheika has made 10 changes to the run-on side that beat Uruguay and you could roughly calculate that 12 of these 15 starters are in the go-zone for a likely quarter-final blockbuster against England in Oita on Saturday week.
Top tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa is having a rest so veteran Sekope Kepu comes in.
After starting for 50 minutes against Uruguay, captain Michael Hooper slides to the bench and David Pocock starts as skipper this week.
There is still every chance they will considered as a hustling "Pooper" pairing for the quarter-final.
This is still the indestructible Hooper's first Test off the bench since playing Argentina in Mendoza four years ago although he was rested for a game and suspended for another at the 2015 World Cup.
Remarkably it's just the seventh time Hooper will start off the bench in what's set to be his 99th Test appearance.
White has a seeming lock now on halfback and most of the backline is the frontline unit.
Boom colt Jordan Petaia will get perhaps an hour this week on the wing but Reece Hodge will be available after this game when his high tackle suspension ends.
Coach Michael Cheika and his selectors have watched the form of this World Cup unfold and Toomua's direct running and assured play have been a feature, especially in the second half comeback of the narrow loss to Wales.
He has twice been used as a reserve and once starting at inside centre against Uruguay.
Toomua spread the ball to space neatly in the 45-10 victory over Uruguay last weekend when he hoped a strong game at inside centre could be an audition for a chance at five-eighth.
He has got his wish.
"I have said it a few times and I genuinely mean it, there is not too much difference in the way we play, with the halves, No. 10 and No. 12 (through the squad)," Toomua said.
"So the transition is a bit easier than it might be in the past."
Before the Uruguay game, he said: "We've chopped and changed a little bit for various reasons and my goal is always to get a starting spot...hopefully a good performance pushes my case."
Wallabies (v Georgia at Shizuoka Stadium on Friday, 9.15pm Sydney time)
1. Scott Sio (61 Tests)
2. Tolu Latu (17 Tests)
3. Sekope Kepu (109 Tests)
4. Izack Rodda (23 Tests)
5. Rory Arnold (24 Tests)
6. Jack Dempsey (13 Tests)
7. David Pocock (c) (81 Tests)
8. Isi Naisarani (6 Tests)
9. Nic White (29 Tests)
10. Matt Toomua (50 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (26 Tests)
12. Samu Kerevi (vc) (31 Tests)
13. James O'Connor (50 Tests)
14. Jordan Petaia (1 Test)
15. Kurtley Beale (90 Tests)
16. Jordan Uelese (7 Tests)
17. James Slipper (94 Tests)
18. Taniela Tupou (17 Tests)
19. Adam Coleman (37 Tests)
20. Michael Hooper (98 Tests)
21. Will Genia (108 Tests)
22. Christian Lealiifano (24 Tests)
23. Dane Haylett-Petty (36 Tests)