Australia head coach Michael Cheika has favoured potential over experience in his squad selection for the Wallabies’ quarter-final against England.
James O’Connor has been left out of the starting XV to make way for 19-year-old Jordan Petaia. The midfielder became Australia’s youngest ever World Cup player when he made his debut against Uruguay in the pool stages.
The Queensland Reds centre made a lasting impression on his head coach and was chosen again for the Wallabies’ final pool match against Georgia.
Petaia has impressed on the domestic level in his home country but has spent most of 2019 sidelined with a serious foot injury. He was unable to feature in Australia’s warm-up tests but was still deemed a viable selection for the World Cup squad.
O’Connor put in a shift in Australia’s opener against Fiji. However, his performances in their remaining fixtures was largely ineffective. At 29-years-old, he has tallied 223 points from 50 appearances for his country.
Cheika’s chop and change approach to his pool stage selections have evoked mixed opinions from fans and analysts alike.
On the one hand, he can be commended for his belief in youth. Petaia delivered on the job he was given and has been rewarded with a start in the World Cup quarter-finals in return.
However, detractors of Cheika’s approach will be quick to point out that the Wallabies have not found a settled squad at the tournament. Team chemistry may not be as established as it normally should at this stage in the World Cup.
This is likely to make or break Cheika’s reign as the Wallabies’ head coach. Should they pull off a win against England, then the decision will be hailed as a stroke of genius that highlights the benefits and necessity of youth development.
Should Australia lose and exit the tournament in the quarter-finals, the blame is likely to be pointed at Cheika's squad selection strategy. It is also likely that his tenure as head coach will end here at Japan 2019.
Either way, Cheika seems to be making something of a gamble with this choice at a critical stage in the tournament. Most will agree that such a gutsy decision is indeed commendable given what it might mean for his future as Australia head coach.Published 17 Oct 2019, 16:39 IST