Wallabies debutant Petaia has the talent to match hype

The much-heralded winger is the standout name in Australia's team to face Uruguay on Saturday.

TOKYO, 3 Oct - Jordan Petaia is a name that every Wallabies fan has been desperate to see on the teamsheet. On Saturday the world will finally find out what all the fuss is about when the 19-year-old runs out to face Uruguay in a crucial Pool D match. 

The 98kg, 1.9m back, above, has been exciting coaches, fellow players and family members since just about the moment he stepped on to a rugby pitch. There is no one better to explain just what all the hype is about than fellow Wallaby Matt To'omua

"Athletically, he is a big boy," said To'omua, who grew up alongside Petaia in Brisbane, where the boys' families were constantly in and out of one another's houses. "I call his mum and dad uncle and auntie. I think, technically, they're not really, but we grew up together.

"More so than any other young player, he is just as competent on both sides of the ball: attack and defence. It's not often you say that about young guys. They might have a wicked sidestep or something but Jordy likes getting in the rough and tumble stuff, which is brilliant.

"It is probably the reason why the coaches have shown a lot of faith in him at a World Cup, with the high stakes. He doesn't have a glaring weakness, which is great for a young guy." 

The teenager may have played just 13 Super Rugby matches and returned to full training only last week after a hamstring injury, but coach Michael Cheika is a leading voice in the youngster's growing fan club.

"You wouldn't know that he's a teenager, the way that he carries himself around the team," Cheika said when explaining his selection of the Queensland Reds star on Wednesday.

"He's intelligent to talk to, understands his rugby, understands the game very well. He loves it, too. You can see that he's loved it for a long time, and he's definitely ready for it."

Cheika has been so taken by Petaia's all-round talents that he has been trying to get him in the team for more than a year. Equally comfortable at full-back or on the wing, Petaia's first senior call-up came ahead of the Wallabies' European tour last year.

The youngster was slated to make his test debut against Italy in November 2018 but injury struck just days before. That experience has made Petaia understandably wary when looking ahead to the moment he should become the first Australian since Berrick Barnes in 2007 to make their Wallabies bow at a World Cup. 

"Obviously, just trying to get through the week first, don't want to jinx it," Petaia said. "Just trying to get to that game on Saturday and see what happens from there." 

If his hamstrings do not let him down, RWC 2019 could be in for another milestone moment. Petaia's fleeting top-level performances have drawn high praise.

Australia's two-time World Cup-winning centre Tim Horan labelled the teenager a "future Wallaby great" after his electric display for the Reds against the Otago Highlanders in round two of Super Rugby 2019. 

"He was always a tough little kid," said To'omua, above. "I never thought I would play with Jordy, to be fair, so it's pretty cool we get to do it on this stage in a World Cup."

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