Cheika has faith in Wallabies depth

by Staff Writer

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says he trusts the depth of Australian rugby, after Sam Carter and James Hanson were called in as injury replacements overnight.

Number eight Wycliff Palu (hamstring) and lock Will Skelton (pectoral) were ruled out of the remainder of the tournament on Tuesday morning but Cheika said he was confident of the side's reinforcements moving forward.

The combination that Michael Hooper and David Pocock have forged in the back row and the depth even outside the national squad made the decision to replace Palu with a third hooker, in James Hanson, easier, Cheika said.

“The two lads (Pocock and Hooper) playing together has made that option a little bit easier,” he said.

“We’ve got Ben McCalman who can play eight as well, we’ve got Sean McMahon who’s playing well in the back row, we’ve got Dean Mumm who can slide between 6 and lock so we feel we’re pretty well covered there.

“I think it’s not easy to replace Wycliff Palu like for like so I think we just decided that maybe something different.”

Cheika said the wider depth of Australian rugby may not be fully realised by many, with a handful of players with Wallabies exprerience back in Australia and based in Europe, who could slot into the squad if required.

“I believe that Australian rugby’s not realised the players it has, the players it can draw on to build quality,” he said.

“We’ve got guys like (Sam) Carter, Hanson, (James) Horwill, (Matt) Giteau, (Scott) Higginbotham, Liam Gill.

“We’ve got to make sure we get the maximum potential out of all the players in Australia and keep building that.”

There was no last-minute scrambling over the selections of the pair called up either, with Cheika saying the side had a plan in place from the start.

“It’s just if you lose this player what would you do. If you lost that players, what would you do etc and at what stage of the tournament,” he said.

“You just try and prepare all those situations.

“Not because you’ve got to have it ready but more to put yourself at ease that you’ve done all your preparation and you can then move on and just think about planning the games week to week.”

The end of Palu’s tournament will almost definitely be the end of his international career, after 57 Tests in the green and gold.

It’s not the first time Palu’s World Cup has finished with injury - he flew home in the pool stages of the 2011 tournament with a hamstring issue.

Cheika said the 33-year-old’s experience had been invaluable for the squad through their preparations, praising his “strong but quiet influence”.

“Wycliff has been a very, very remarkable player for Australia and it’s more than likely the last game he’ll play for Australia so it’s a sad day for us in that regard,” he said.

“But he’s brought us so much over the years and in this tournament in particular, his presence and the way he’s come back from injury to play in the tournament has been really special for the players.

“He’s got a strong but quiet influence within the team and he’s going to be sorely missed.”

The Wallabies face England at 6am Sunday morning Australian time, in their third World Cup pool match.

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