OITA, Japan (AFP) – Nineteen-year-old Jordan Petaia (pic below) will hope to make an immediate impact for Australia when he makes his long-awaited debut in a “grand final” against Uruguay at the Rugby World Cup today.
The hulking teenager, named on the left wing, has twice seen his international debut delayed by injury but he will finally get his chance as Australia look to bounce back from their defeat by Wales and move towards the quarter-finals.
The gulf between the teams is large, with Australia sixth in the rankings and Uruguay well down at 18, but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is taking no chances against a team that handed Fiji a shock defeat.
He’s called for more muscle from a rearranged back row, improved concentration, and better handling to provide width on attack – where Petaia will be lurking in his first start.
“There’s not many guys that get to make their debut in a World Cup so he’s blessed with the opportunity,” Cheika said.
“I know he’s a fine young man and he’ll take the opportunity with both hands for sure.”
Australia lie third in Pool D, a point behind Fiji but with a game in hand. They have made 12 changes from their 29-25 loss to Six Nations champions Wales.
Fiji, who were beaten by Australia after leading for much of the match, and were then upset 30-27 by Uruguay, face unbeaten Wales in their final pool game.
After their narrow defeat by the Welsh, the pressure is on the Wallabies to get maximum points from their remaining games against Uruguay and Georgia.
“Essentially, now it’s grand final week for us,” said prop James Slipper. “We’ve seen what they did to Fiji earlier in the tournament and it’s going to be a hard match.
“It’s important that we play a good game and start to build some momentum going into the rest of the tournament.”
Number eight Jack Dempsey and flanker Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, both destructive ball-carriers, come into the side to assert themselves early.
“We are after a fast start, it’s something we want to work on, and, as a back-rower, that is something you can have a hand in, getting that quick start and getting a bit of a roll on,” said Dempsey.
Slow starts have been costly for the Wallabies and although they managed to claw their way back to beat Fiji they weren’t able to recover from going behind against Wales, leaving them facing a likely quarter-final against England.
But Cheika said they were not looking that far ahead.
“If you start thinking you’re in the quarter-finals, you leave yourself open to attack and we’re genuinely not,” he said.
Cheika put the slow starts down to handling and concentration issues and it will not get any easier holding on to the ball when the play Uruguay.
The Wallabies have conceded four tries in their two games from a mix of an intercept, a dropped ball and missed tackles.
“We’ve also created opportunities. If you watch the two games, we’ve created opportunities at the start of the game, we maybe haven’t taken those opportunities at the start, whereas in the back 60 minutes or 50 minutes of games we have,” he said.