Australia and Ireland faced tough choices Friday over whether to pit star players David Pocock, Israel Folau and Jonny Sexton into the four North-South World Cup quarter-final clashes.
Australia delayed for several hours announcing their team to play Scotland on Sunday because of doubts over Pocock and Folau.
Scotland, as well as Ireland and Argentina who dispute Sunday’s other game, were all to announce their teams on Friday.
New Zealand and France, and South Africa and Wales set the sudden death weekend off on Saturday with their games at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and Twickenham respectively.
Australia coach Michael Cheika gave No 8 Pocock and star full back Folau a final chance to prove their fitness before naming his starting XV for the Twickenham game.
“We are going to give Pocock a run before training and test his fitness,” Cheika said. “He ran yesterday and got into some work.”
The coach added that star full back Folau “is further advanced than last week. He will do the same as Pocock. He’s further along than Pocock and I am pretty confident he will play.”
Folau, yet to score a try in the World Cup, is seeking to shake off an ankle problem that forced him to leave the field in the 33-13 Pool A victory over hosts England.
– Late choices –
Pocock has a calf muscle injury that saw him leave the win over Wales early.
Australia go into the game as hot favourites even though they have lost two of their last three games with Scotland.
Scotland know they will definitely be without forwards Ross Ford and Jonny Gray even though they are appealing against their three week bans.
The Scottish Rugby Union announced Thursday that it was challenging punishments handed to hooker Ford and lock Gray for dumping Samoan Jack Lam on his head with an illegal two-man tip tackle during a 36-33 Pool B win over Samoa.
But the Scots have said they will only appeal the length of the suspensions, not the finding of guilt itself.
Ireland face their dilemma over 30-year-old Sexton who limped off after 25 minutes of Ireland’s bruising 24-9 victory over France on Sunday. He could be touch-and-go for the match against Argentina in Cardiff.
Sexton has been running again and the team had expressed confidence. But the Irish made no announcement on Sexton’s progress Thursday.
Coach Joe Schmidt normally has a rule that players must train from the start of the week to be involved in the game plan. But the team has indicated it could be a last minute decision on whether Sexton plays at the Millennium on Sunday.
“It’s do-or-die kind of stuff, so there might be some kind of allowances around a few things, especially with our medical staff,” said assistant coach Les Kiss on Wednesday. “We’re quietly confident, we’ll see how he goes on Friday,” added scrum coach Greg Feek.
Ireland also have doubts about Keith Earls who took a general battering in the France game.
They have already lost Jared Payne and captain Paul O’Connell to tournament ending injuries.
Argentina already know they must do without centre Marcelo Bosch who was suspended for one match for a dangerous tackle against Namibia in the pool games.
New Zealand and France have both named strong teams for their quarter-final, the pick of Saturday’s games.
Ma’a Nonu won a battle with Sonny Bill Williams for a midfield start in New Zealand’s team.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre caused his own upset by dropping midfield powerhouse Mathieu Bastareaud to the replacements’ bench. – Agence France-Presse