Keeping players in dark works best for us, claims Cheika

Australia coach is happy to sacrifice stability for an extra competitive edge among his players.

TOKYO, 9 Oct - The message from head coach Michael Cheika is clear: Australia will continue to jettison consistency and stability of selection in favour of dynamism and fluidity as they ramp up their bid to win a third Rugby World Cup. 

While most of the Wallabies' major rivals for the Webb Ellis Cup have, or are working towards, a settled side based on trusted combinations, Cheika and his fellow coaches have created an environment alive with uncertainty and possibility. 

"I know different teams have different strategies in how they want to approach it - some want to go with the same players all the time. We feel like keeping players competing for spots is working for us," Cheika said after announcing his line-up for their final pool D match against Georgia in Shizuoka on Friday.

Among the 10 changes from the starting XV against Uruguay, Cheika has chosen his third different fly-half of the tournament, as well as a new look front row, back row and half-back pairing. 

This comes on the back of 12 changes between the matches against Wales and Uruguay and the surprise - and so far one-off - recall of veteran fly-half Bernard Foley for the heavyweight clash with Wales.

"This is how we think this squad is best, to keep giving opportunity to guys to keep the contest alive with others," Cheika explained in Tokyo on Tuesday.

"That competition is sparking players to want to do better when they get on because they know their place can be earned. You see that really well between the half-backs and now in the back row also. 

 "We are pretty clear with how we are operating and then it is up to players to own that and say, 'Yeah, you've got to pick me because I am playing so good'."

One players with the opportunity to shine in Shizuoka is Matt To'omua, pictured in training. The playmaker came off the bench to great effect in the first two matches, before starting against Uruguay at inside-centre.

On Friday, To'omua will start at fly-half for the Wallabies for the first time since November 2018. However, not only is Cheika unconcerned by such seemingly dramatic swerves in selection, it is all part of the master plan.

"I don't think Christian Lealiifano (the starting fly-half against Fiji and Uruguay) has done anything particularly deserving of saying, 'No, you are not going to play now'. We are just taking a look," Cheika explained.

"So, if we do the right thing and get through to the knockout stages then we know everyone has been a part of it, doing their bit, and we have multiple options in different positions because we don't know what is going to happen along the way with injury or suspension."

Such a philosophy means that by the end of the pool stage all 31 Australia players will have plenty of RWC 2019 minutes under their belt, with only front-row trio Folau Fainga'a, Taniela Tupou and Jordan Uelese not starting a game. 

While Dane Haylett-Petty, full-back against Wales before moving to the wing against Uruguay, accepts that such a strategy has the potential to be divisive, he insists that is not the reality. 

"He (Cheika) definitely stuck with his picks more in the past, but that's the strategy he has gone with and I do think it is working well," said Haylett-Petty, who is on the bench against Georgia.

"We've talked about everyone bringing their little piece of the puzzle and a lot of boys are doing that. We are a tight-knit group. We all care about each other and we all want each other to do well. While there is competition, everyone is just pushing each other to grow and get better."

RNS ln/wh/ns/sw