Wallabies to "mix and match" back row after Naisarani's impressive debut

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Wallabies are set to to mix and match itheir back row styles as the year goes on after an impressive outing from debutant Isi Naisarani in Johannesburg.

Naisarani made his long-awaited debut for the Wallabies on Sunday morning (AEST), four years after he moved to Australia.

Many of his family and friends were gathered around their TVs in the early hours of the Fijian morning and the sleepless night would have been worth it to see Naisarani in action finally.

"It's unreal to make my Test debut,” he said post-match.

“I feel humble. I've been waiting for so long to get this opportunity. It's a blessing for me.

“I've been getting heaps of messages, texts from back home.All my family, friends, my village stayed up to watch, (even though) The kickoff was 3am back home.

"When I came to Australia my dream was to play for the Wallabies. To now get this opportunity is a blessing.”

The no. 8 finished with 10 carries for 19 metres, three beaten defenders and five tackles in a tireless performance.

While sentimentally his debut was special, Naisarani’s combination with  Michael Hooper and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto has presented a genuine alternative to the “Pooper” duo of Hooper and Pocock in the back row in recent years.

Wallabie coach Michael Cheika was pleased with the new-look back row against the Springboks.

“I thought Naisarani had an excellent debut,” Cheika said.

‘He was consistently involved in the game, didn’t have a very high error count and he was present all the time, made some crucial catches and he defended with physicality.

“Lukhan also I think played the same, like to get him onto the ball a little bit more, like carrying from a bit more depth but I thought they definitely played good roles in the game and when David's back we'll have the ability to mix and match between the two types of game.”

Flanker David Pocock is still working his way back from a calf injury he originally suffered in January, meaning any decision on the best combination overall will have to wait.

Cheika said once Pocock did push his way back into contention, the Wallabies would have the freedom to "mix and match" how they deployed their back row.

“I think we’ll be able to play a little bit of both,” he said.

“We don't have to say we're going to sign off on one way of playing in that regard, how we set up.”

Naisarani said he felt good playing in that back row and was confident they could improve against the Pumas in Brisbane.

“It was the first game we've played together and we'll get better and better,” he said.

“We knew what the South African team would be all about with their big forwards and there were some missed opportunities from us in the first half.

“But we will come back strong.”

The Wallabies host the Pumas on Saturday July 27 at Suncorp Stadium, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.