Pocock returns as Wallabies name team for Russia Test
NELSON, 29 Sept. - Australia’s dire injury situation has forced them to wind back the clock and name loose forward Radike Samo on the right wing for Saturday’s match against Russia at Trafalgar Park.
The 35-year-old Samo, who last started on the wing for the ACT Brumbies in 1999, will become the first player to start as a forward and a back at the same Rugby World Cup.
In announcing one of Australia’s most makeshift line-ups in recent history, including two scrum halves as the only backs on the bench, coach Robbie Deans conceded the injury toll meant he had no option but to hand Samo the No. 14 jersey.
"Obviously it hasn't been his typical position of late but with our circumstances it's become a necessity,” Deans said.
Five Wallaby backs were unavailable for selection because of various injuries, while back row Wycliff Palu has already returned home with a torn hamstring, leaving Deans only 24 fit players to choose from.
The resulting nine changes to the side that defeated USA see two hookers in Tatafu Polota-Nau and Saia Faingaa, along with scrum halves Will Genia and Nick Phipps, listed on a lopsided bench that will seemingly struggle to cover further injuries to the backs and back row.
However, Deans insists his players are sufficiently versatile to play out of their normal positions should the situation demand it.
"That's the way we tend to approach our work anyway. We don't stick to the traditional role play of numbers on backs,” he said.
This attitude was echoed by replacement scrum half Phipps, who said that his background in Sevens Rugby gave him the ability to cover several positions.
"I'm pretty much prepared to play anywhere this weekend,” he said.
“It depends on how injuries go on the field. I've been told to prepare for anywhere.”
In some rare positive injury news for the Australians, influential David Pocock has sufficiently recovered from his tight back to be named at openside flanker.
Ben McCalman has been shifted back to number 8 to accommodate Pocock’s return, while Adam Ashley-Cooper reclaims his favoured outside centre position.
James O’Connor, who has been named at full back, says that while the mounting injuries are a concern for the team, he is personally excited by the new-look line-up.
The 21-year-old believes Samo, who has taken his right wing position, will use his 117kg frame and surprising ball skills to run amok against the Russian defence on Saturday.
"He offers so many threats and so much that's different from a normal winger,” O’Connor said.
“You can put him in the front line to go forward but he's also got great hands and can put that little flick ball out the back. He's going to suck defenders in whether they want it or not."