Preview: Australia v Fiji

Date published: September 22 2015

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Australia kick-off their 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign with a high-pressure clash against Fiji at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday.

With both England and Wales having started their respective tournaments with bonus point wins, the Wallabies the – winners of both previous World Cups played in Britain – will feel they must do the same in the battle for top spot in the 'Pool of Death.'

Never has that name for this group more appropriate. The shake up in the world rankings following the past weekend's results means Pool A now contains the countries ranked 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the world!

That won't bother Fiji though as the Islanders – although obviously disappointed with their loss to England – will take encouragement from the fact that they pushed the tournaments hosts all the way in a griping opening clash.

Indeed, Fiji were still very much in the hunt as the clock hit 70 minutes at Twickenham and they'll tell themselves that if they can find an extra ten minutes worth of gas, an upset is possible. 

While the influence of the coaches like former Bulls mentor Frans Ludeke has perhaps blunted Fiji's unpredictability, they are much more solid in key areas like the kickoffs and lineouts – Ludeke's specialities – meaning they are no longer soft targets for the big teams.

But it's not the set pieces that will provide the fireworks in this clash. The Wallabies' double breakdown threat of David Pocock and Michael Hooper is sure to produce plenty of quick ball for a lethal backline that can match the Fijians for exciting running on any day.

Nemani Nadolo is set to be one of the biggest stars of this World Cup – both literally and figuratively – while the likes of Israel Folau and Matt Giteau are already amongst the biggest draw cards in the game.

A closed roof will ensure the quality of the spectacle matches the heights of the stakes. Australia coach Michael Cheika has insisted his team will continue to play an exciting brand of rugby, despite the common perception that conservative game plans are necessary to win at World Cups.

"That's the way we play, to play with attack," he said on Monday. 

"It's part of our identity. We're not going to change our ways just because it's a World Cup."

It's no revelation that Fiji are one of the most dangerous counter-attacking sides around, so Wednesday's clash promises to be a high-octane affair.

Players to watch:

For Australia: The competition for Australia's number ten shirt is red hot but Bernard Foley has a chance to put his hand up. Cheika has chopped and changed all season but it was Foley who started when the Wallabies beat the All Blacks to claim the Rugby Championship. Quade Cooper was directing traffic when the Aussie were thrashed in Auckland a week later so another assured performance from Foley could well convince Cheika to stick with the Waratahs man he has worked with during Super Rugby. 

For Fiji: Still only 22, Clermont flank Peceli Yato is a star of the future. He scored seven tries in just nine starts for his French club last season, earning a nation  call-up for the first time as a result. At 1.96 m, he's a big lad but he has real pace. His athleticism makes him a real handful so Australia will want shut him down before he opens up the throttle with ball in hand. 

Head-to-head: With both teams keen to play at pace, the service and decision making of the scrum-halves, Will Genia and Nikola Matawalu will be important. It's fair to say that Genia's experience had more to do with his selection than recent form, but he is a man for the big occasions and this is certainly one of them. Matawalu showed just how dangerous he can be in the opener against England but he needs to match his flair with defensive solidity if he is to keep Genia quiet. 

Team news: Flanker Dominiko Waqaniburotu has been ruled out of the match after being suspended for a dangerous tackle against England and coach John McKee has made three other changes to freshen up his pack as Netani Talei starts at number eight, Tevita Cavubati comes into the second row and Tuapati Talemaitoga takes over at hooker. 

Brumbies flank David Pocock will start at number eight for Australia in a starting XV that features seven Rugby World Cup debutants. Genia returns to the run-on side for the first time since the Wallabies’ 24-20 win over South Africa in their Rugby Championship opener in July.

Previous results:

2010: Australia won 49-3 in Canberra
2007: Australia won 55-12 in Montpellier
2007: Australia won 49-0 in Perth
1998: Australia won 66-20 in Sydney
1985: Australia won 31-9 in Sydney
1985: Australia won 52-28 in Brisbane
1984: Australia won 16-3 in Suva
1980: Australia won 22-9 in Suva

Prediction: Fiji have not beaten Australia since 1954 and despite their improvements, that record is unlikely to change this week. Australia by 12 points

The teams:

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Dean Mumm, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.

Fiji: 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Waisea Nayacalevu, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Nikola Matawalu, 8 Netani Talei, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Peceli Yato, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 1 Campese Ma'afu
Replacements: 16 Viliame Veikoso, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Isei Colati, 19 Nemia Soqeta, 20 Malakai Ravulo, 21 Nemia Kenatale, 22 Josh Matavesi, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma

Date: Wednesday, September 23
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 16:45 local (15:45 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England

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