The loose forwards to start in a fortnight for the Flying Fijians Rugby World Cup opener have to be carefully selected with the best openside international flanker David Pocock possibly suiting up at the Sapporo Dome.
Pocock has been named at his favourite openside flanker position in his return after a six-month layoff through a calf injury; to skipper the Wallabies in their last warm up against Samoa on Saturday in Sydney.
Depending on the position he plays, Pocock has to be closely monitored whether he plays his preferred position at number seven or number 8 where he effectively undermined Fiji’s chances in the last Rugby World Cup.
Skipper Dominiko Waqaniburotu who will be opposite Pocock if he plays his normal berth at number 6, has to be doubly alert in the breakdowns where Pocock makes his mark in the first to react and pinch the ball from the carrier.
When given too much time and space, Pocock as he did against the Flying Fijians at the 2015 RWC had a field day in turnover balls which robbed Fiji of control and hard earned possession which they bested the Aussies at 53 percent.
If his counterpart and the whole team keep abreast of the ability of this pilferer, he can be contained and his potential in dominating the game minimised in protecting the ball carrier from the Australians.
An option would be playing Levani Botia at number 6 and moving Waqaniburotu at openside to watch and negate Pocock’s prowess at the breakdowns.
On the opposite number 6 for the Wallabies is incumbent captain Michael Hooper who is not too far behind Pocock in ability and quickness to react in the creation of a breakdown.
Another option is to allow Botia to play a dual role in blindside flanker and inside back intermittently changing with Semi Kunatani or the bigger form of Jale Vatubua who could play number 6 at Wallaby throw-ins at set pieces.
A little variation and unorthodoxy could throw the Aussies off to the Flying Fijians advantage and Kunatani or Vatubua could do with some innovative plays to ignite creativity which naturally breeds energy and enthusiasm.
The Pocock factor in mauls cost Fiji 12 points in the deficit in the 2015 RWC encounter within five minutes and saw the Wallabies lead 15-3 in the 31st minute at the Millennium Stadium.
If Pocock comes out at Sapporo Dome in a number 8 strip then we will have to pick between Viliame Mata and the stronger Peceli Yato to contain him.
Mata has evidently bulked up after three seasons with Guinness premier for Edinburgh but Yato with a longer service for his Clermont club in the Top 14 has a few years advantage in experience and gym work to match the Australian champion ball hunter.
The Nadroga loosie needs to check his exuberance though, with fiery exchanges which cost the team 10 minutes with 14 players after copping a yellow card after retaliating threw punches at the Tongans in their last warm up at Eden Park.
The Australians who have returned from a 10-day bonding and intensive training in Noumea have prepared well for the rugby showpiece in Japan and will come fired up for their first match on September 21.
It maybe a coincidence but the Pacific rivals clashed on almost the same date four years ago at the Cardiff stadium which saw the Australians defeat Fiji 28-13.
- FRB will be looking at the different positions for the Flying Fijians in their RWC introduction first match against Australia in the next few posts.