Michael Cheika’s surprise selection of 19-year-old Jordan Petaia at outside centre for Saturday’s quarter-final against England is not a risky decision, according to the Wallabies coach.
Cheika described Petaia as ‘relaxed and very well prepared’ at Thursday’s team announcement, with the talented utility back seemingly unfazed by the enormity of the occasion.
‘The one thing I’ve noticed about him, he gives off a demeanour of talking pretty cool and chill, but he’s very well prepared both off the field in getting ready tactically and physically,’ said Cheika.
‘The guy’s been in around the squad for a while now [and] even though he’s young, he’s more than ready to do this. The way his demeanour is you wouldn’t think he was picked, he was just loping around as per normal so it’s going to be great. I trust him infinitely and that’s why he’s been chosen.’
Despite being involved with the Wallaby camp for some time, the young Petaia only made his Test debut during the Wallabies’ second World Cup game against Uruguay.
‘I wouldn’t be looking at the age of players at either end of the spectrum … yes, it’s going to be fast and aggressive and all that type of stuff and I know that lad will rise up to that challenge,’ continued Cheika. ‘I know it. I’ve seen it in him, so I know he will on Saturday.’
Despite not wanting to reveal too much about other selection decisions, Cheika did comment on the inclusion of Reece Hodge straight after his three-week suspension.
‘He’s got a certain skill set that we like and he’s got a great work ethic as well,’ said Cheika of the versatile Hodge.
‘It was a tough decision because there’s a guy like Dane Haylett-Petty who’s not even in the team but I just think he’ll be a really good fit for this game.’
Cheika was also not hesitant to select the unpredictable Kurtley Beale at fullback, even though Beale was forced off the field against Georgia in the Wallabies final pool game.
‘No concern about playing him at all from a physical perspective, not at all,’ continued Cheika.
‘As far as what he brings, we all know the unpredictability of the game that Beale can bring. That’s something I really like, you know. He’s primed, he’s fresh at least because he went off pretty early.
‘I’m a big believer in Beale, I know what he can bring to the game.’
Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley