Australia coach Michael Cheika says his close-knit Wallabies squad are exactly where he wants them to be and bubbling with spirit as they head to the Rugby World Cup.
The two-time World Cup winners fly to Japan on Sunday after a scratchy 34-15 win against Samoa in Sydney featuring a mostly second-string side.
But Cheika was pleased it had left him with a selection dilemma for the Wallabies’ opening game against Fiji on September 21.
“You want to have as many players as possible competing for the spots, it’s exactly where you want to be going into the tournament,” Cheika said.
“I think we have a really good atmosphere in the team, where players all compete with each other and then once one gets selected, the other one works with him to make sure the right outcome comes in the game.”
Only three players from their Bledisloe Cup defeat to New Zealand last month were risked in the starting side on Saturday — Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Marika Koroibete.
Coleman went off with a sore thumb, but everyone else came through unscathed, including inspirational flanker David Pocock who played 58 minutes in his first international in almost a year after an injury-plagued season.
A plus point for Cheika was the form of the lightning quick Koroibete, while veteran Will Genia distributed well from the scrum as he tries to force his way back into the team after being unseated recently by Nic White.
Long-time first-choice fly-half Bernard Foley, who has lost his spot to Christian Lealiifano, had a solid game but kicked only two conversions from six attempts.
Of more concern will be handling errors and defensive lapses in the second half that allowed Samoa to score two tries though Cheika said he was happy with “a really good hit-out”.
Cheika said the squad were keen to get to Japan after a long build-up that has seen them win three and lose two this season while dealing with the off-field drama of Israel Folau being sacked for making homophobic comments.
“This is the closest I’ve seen the team from a camaraderie point of view since I’ve been involved with the side,” said the coach, who was also in charge during the last World Cup four years ago when Australia lost in the final to New Zealand.
“And we’ve had good momentum on different occasions and a very solid feeling around the team.
“To go through some of the things we’ve had to go through off the field, that tests you,” he added.
“We’ve been able to come out the other side and you’ve only got to go in that dressing room now to know this is a very solid group and they are eager to make the country proud of us.”