Wallabies not banking on element of surprise against England

Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano says Australia isn’t banking on the element of surprise against England in their World Cup quarter-final after weeks of mixing and matching selections.

The Wallabies have made handfuls of changes to their lineup each week through the Rugby World Cup pool stages, something coach Michael Cheika said last week was about ensuring the competition within his team remained.

Whether it creates an extra air of mystery for opponents is another school of thought, though Lealiifano said they wouldn’t be expecting to take England by surprise on Saturday.

"I don't think so. We probably won't go out there to try and surprise anyone,” he said.

"We're trying to focus on getting our best combinations that we feel will put our best game out there.

"I don't know if it's a strength, I think the main focus has been on us, trying to improve our game.

"I guess different combinations would probably be a good thing.”

Christian Lealliifano says the Wallabies won't be expecting to catch England by surprise after chopping and changing their selections. Photo: Getty ImagesWhile the halves have been among the most-rotated department, Lealiifano has been the most-selected 10 in 2019 amid a careful load management in Japan.

Lealiifano showed his ability to play week in, week out in Super Rugby this year, playing 18 matches with an average of 76 minutes, but he has been carefully managed through the Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup campaign so far.

The flyhalf played one 80-minute effort - against Uruguay - in the four matches and the Wallabies have been open about the need to manage his load coming off games, given his past illness and his age.

If Lealiifano is considered the Wallabies’ first-choice flyhalf, as recent selections would suggest, he would be expected to play significant minutes in up to three knockout matches should the Wallabies progress.

The flyhalf admitted it was a “day-to-day” prospect as to whether he could withstand three consecutive full matches.

“It's hard to say, as we’ve gone, it's just been managing each game as we go and seeing how I feel day to day,” he said.

“I guess I'd be confident to, if I was called upon, but I think it's just about coming back to the week-by-week case and seeing how they go.

The Wallabies have been putting in plenty of work ahead of their quarter-final. Photo: Getty ImagesLealiifano is prepared for the physical element of matches to go up a notch as they prepare for a sudden-death quarter-final against England on Saturday.

“I think we've probably put a big focus on it, I think we understand the level is going to go up and I guess controlling what we can and that's our physicality and how we go about preparing each day,” he said.

“Training-wise it's definitely been up there, just progressing each week and throughout the tournament as well, trying to improve on that kind of stuff so yeah it's going to be a big step up and I guess we're ready and training that way.”

Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi is one player who brings that physicality to the Australian attack and Lealiifano said Kerevi’s ability to “play big” was a major asset for the Wallabies.

"A real calm person. He's calm by nature, a pretty relaxed guy,” he said.

“Then he plays big for you and that's something that I like with Samu as well. He carries the ball strong, he defends well and his talking is something I've been really impressed with.

"His way to communicate and his calmness in the way he communicates as well is something that I'm really enjoying.

Christian Lealiifano says he enjoys playing alongisdeLealiifano said Kerevi, and the potential injection of a player like Matt To’omua in the inside backs, gave the Wallabies some good options up their sleeves in the backline.

“There's a few different combinations in there,” he said.

“Obviously, Matty's started a bit at 12 as well, but I think it gives us a nice variation to be able to play how we want to play.

“Obviously with Samu being our vice-captain as well and leader, it's a pivotal role here.

“He's been playing really well for us as well, so hopefully that continues.”

Australia takes on England in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Saturday October 19 at Oita Stadium, kicking off at 4:15pm local, 6:15pm AEDT, LIVE on Foxtel, Network Ten and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO, Rugby Xplorer and Amazon Alexa.