Saint-Galmier, France: Under-fire Australia coach Eddie Jones on Friday said he had picked his “best 23” for the Wallabies’ final Rugby World Cup Pool C clash against Portugal, making just three changes to his starting line-up.
Australia are playing for their World Cup lives in Saint Etienne on Sunday but know that they could have been already eliminated before taking to the field, if Fiji beat Georgia with a bonus point on Saturday.
Previous pool defeats to Wales and Fiji have left Australia’s hopes hanging by a thread and facing the ignominy of being the first Wallabies team to fail to reach the knockout stages.
“Obviously (it’s been) a tough old week,” admitted Jones.
All-but end Australia's hopes
Last week’s record 40-6 defeat to Wales all-but ended Australia’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages.
Jones said he had changed the weekly training routine after that defeat.
“We trained the day after the game because we wanted to get back out onto the field,” he added.
“They’re a really good bunch of young players and their application to wanting to be better has been fantastic.”
Whereas Wales picked a virtual second string side when they played pool minnows Portugal, Jones has gone for his strongest line-up.
After losing seven of his eight matches since returning to the national team fold, Jones is in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory.
“I’ve always gone into every World Cup where you pick the best 23 for each game, and this is the best 23,” he said.
Jones changed both centres with Izaia Perese and Lalakai Foketi coming in for Samu Kerevi and Jordan Petaia.
“Foketi’s trained well the whole tournament,” said Jones.
Foketi was named on the bench for Australia’s first two pool matches but did not make the matchday 23 against Wales.
“Samu (Kerevi) has probably been a little bit off, he’s had a tough run-in to the World Cup coming back from (an) ACL (injury), two hamstring injuries,” said Jones.
“He just hasn’t been as sharp as we would like him to be and Jordie Petaia had a calf issue.
“He’s fit now but again, with Izzie (Perese) he’s trained really well the whole World Cup and we feel both of those guys can do a really good job for us against Portugal.”
‘Huge pinch myself moment’
For Perese, it will be his first opportunity to get on the field at this World Cup and he said he was “excited” after spending the previous weeks helping other players prepare for game day.
“This week I finally get an opportunity so I’m just thinking about doing my job for the boys and putting a lot of pride into that jersey for everyone back home,” said Perese.
“It’s a huge pinch myself moment.”
Work rate game
The last change sees Fraser McReight recalled to the back row at openside with Tom Hooper moving to blindside and Rob Leota dropping to the bench.
“Against Portugal it’s going to be a work rate game,” said Jones.
“They play a side-to-side game and we feel having two workers there (in the back row in Hooper and McReight) will suit us best and then Leota can come on in the second half.
“I thought last week he played well for us. It’s also about keeping the players fresh.”
Backrower Josh Kemeny is included on the bench with Issak Fines-Leleiwasa preferred to veteran Nick White as the replacement scrum-half.