Australia vs Fiji - RWC 2015: Aussies bank on David Pocock and Michael Hooper combining to flummox the Fijians


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The Independent Online

The benefits of Fiji’s unprecedented two-and-a-half-month-long preparation camp were clear from almost the first minute at Twickenham on Friday, where they were fluid, well organised, creative and dangerous.

When they take on Australia at the Millennium Stadium in the next stirring overture before the grand requiems in the Group of Death get started at the weekend, they will have had only five days to think about it. That might prove significant.

It will also be the first showing from an Australia side who enter the tournament somewhat lower in stature than they are used to – and yet utterly resurgent.

Others among the tournament’s bigger beasts have spoken of their intention to field two almost entirely different sides in the early matches, against the likes of Romania or Georgia. Australia probably knew before Friday that Fiji would afford no such luxury. They certainly know now.

Both David Pocock and Michael Hooper start for the Wallabies, two openside flankers who have played such fantastic rugby this season for club and country that coach Michael Cheika had to rebuild his game around them. Hooper, the vice-captain, retains the No 7 shirt. Pocock will play No 8 but has pledged he will not be altering his game in any way.

It will be only the second time the two have started an international together, the first being that 27-19 victory over New Zealand in Sydney in August, which sent English and Welsh jaws crashing to the floor, as the sheer scale of the task of escaping Pool A became terrifyingly clear. “It’s pretty hard not to pick one of them,” was Cheika’s view on the matter. “It sort of means you pick them both. I’m not trying to claim there is any brilliant rocket science behind it. You just have two very good players.”

Fiji are not without quality of their own. The 6ft 5in, 19-stone Nemani Nadolo – who also likes to run the 100m in under 11 seconds – will start the match. Whatever pain subdued him in the last 20 minutes or so under Twickenham’s Friday night lights has either subsided or he will simply overlook.

Fiji are missing 6ft 5in, 19-stone Nemani Nadolo

The scrum-half Nikola Matawalu will be looking to avenge his stunning try – belatedly ruled out by the referee, who without the benefit of the stadium TV replay would never have done so. He didn’t even refer the decision.

England left it until the final play of the game to secure their bonus point for scoring four tries or more. That achievement makes it all the more crucial that Australia bag one of their own.

There is a battle to be won first, however. “We’ve had a lot of tough games scrummaging-wise going through the Rugby Championship and the Bledisloe so it’s been a great prep for us,” said Hooper. “We’re building a lot of confidence there and we got a lot of confidence out of the Rugby Championship with the guys this year, and as a pack they’re really developing well. Obviously it’s going to be a big part of the competition and we’re excited about that challenge.”

But the contest won’t be won and lost up front alone. Far from it. Both teams like to play expansive, open, running rugby, and they will be helped in this quest by a forecast predicting a clear, bright, mild afternoon.

In the absence of rain, the primacy of the set piece, which so characterises northern hemisphere rugby, will be far less of a concern. Fiji even put some dynamic stuff together in those conditions, not least the sublime lofted kick to the corner for Nadolo’s try. Expect more swagger in Cardiff.

Australia have a point to prove – and a match they absolutely must win. But it won’t be easy.