“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” famously pronounced Iron Mike Tyson in his heyday.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup will start with haymakers in every pool. In Yokohama, the body-punching, flat-nosed Ireland will face speed-jabbing, fast-footed Scotland in Pool A, while in Pool B, the ever-dangerous but wildly inconsistent knockout artist Springboks face their favourite rivals, the much-talented and never counted out world champion All Blacks.
The Jocks won’t fear their mates from across the Irish Sea, and the last three matches between South Africa and New Zealand have been decided by a couple of points and one big moment.
Tickets for these two icebreakers will be harder to find than a black cat in a coal mine.
The gloves will touch in Pool C and immediately we will see a rematch of Argentina and France, both trying to resurrect faded grandeur. Nobody will want to make book on that match, now or then.
And in the wet northern town of Sapporo, the Wallabies will run out on to a baseball-soccer field with a retractable roof and about 40,000 fans, and face rugby’s version of Tyson’s bobbing, weaving, threshing machine attack: the Flying Fijians.
They are overdue for a repeat of prior quarter-final visits, and have all the belief in the world, after they toppled a French team in Paris.
Cheika has a handful of games before September 21, 2019 to find a plan that survives the sickening blast that will be the offloading offense of a huge and fast backrow, one of the most underrated second rows in world rugby, battle-hardened props from the Premiership, a Top 14 star-studded backline, with Olympic gold medal heroes all over the show.
When the game is tight, the best of the Drua will roll on.
Here is the immortal Fijian team that beat the Tricolours at the Stade de France.
15. Metuisela Talebula, 14. Josua Tuisova, 13. Semi Radradra, 12. Jale Vatubua, 11. Vereniki Goneva, 10. Ben Volavola, 9. Frank Lomani, 8. Viliame Mata, 7. Peceli Yato, 6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu (c), 5. Leone Nakarawa, 4. Tevita Cavubati, 3. Manasa Saulo, 2. Sam Matavesi, 1. Campese Maafu
Substitutes: 16. Mesulame Dolokoto, 17. Eroni Mawi, 18. Kalivati Tawake, 19. Albert Tuisue, 20. Semi Kunatani, 21. Henry Seniloli, 22. Alivereti Veitokani, 23. Eroni Sau.
In the past, a Wallaby team facing Fiji might expect to find parity, or even dominance, at the breakdown and set piece. But, if that is Cheika’s plan, he may find himself on the canvas, face down, haranguing a referee for calling the fight early.
A couple of Drua man the reserve front row, but that’s a 55-cap Leicester prop starting, in Maafu, and Saulo has plied his trade at Toulon and now the London Irish, so there’s no easy scrum on offer.
Hooker Matavesi comes from a serious rugby family, and has been scoring tries at the rate of a winger.
Nakawara is one of the best locks in the world; the Player of the Year in Europe and a stalwart for Racing 92 and Glasgow.
He’s a real threat to score tries as you watch, prepare to stop, and simply cannot do a bloody thing about.
His 12 Test tries will make the Wallabies nervous; his opposite number will need to hit hard and hope.
His lineout mate will be Worcester-Newcastle star Cavubati, who can shift his 120-kilogram, 2.01-metre frame across a pitch with absurd speed.
Lineouts in general may be a trial for the Aussie hookers, with a Fijian loose trio all capable of playing lock: captain Waqaniburotu of Brive is the shortest of the loose trio, and a wee bit taller than Pooper, at 1.96m and 114 fast kilograms.
Clermont’s Yato and Edinburgh’s Mata are both 1.97m and all three of them have Sevens skills at their size.
Nobody will ever accuse Adam Coleman and Izack Rodda of being meek, and David Pocock and Michael Hooper are nothing if not brave, but flip it, I am not sure they can stem this tide of overhand rights and lefts.
What is the plan? Will it survive the first half’s punches?
It will not get easier for the Wallaby backline, particularly if the defensive setup plan has Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge, and Dane Haylett-Petty sticking their heads in the way of big knees.
At wing, Fiji has the Bulldozer (Tuisova, with 37 tries for Toulon), a premiership finisher in Goneva (55 tries for his two English clubs), and Bordeaux’s Talebula at the back (44 tries for Bordeaux).
In the midfield, there are absolute batterers: a semi-truck named Semi (1.9m/105 kg) and a guy named Jale (1.89m/121 kg) who will get over the gainline.
Hell, the flyhalf is a good Western Sydney boy by way of the Crusaders and Australia U/20s named Volavola, who looks a bit like a blindside and dates Hollywood actresses.
He’ll catch zippy passes from Drua star Lomani.
What is Cheika’s plan to win the first match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup? How will it work? Who is needed?
Samu Kerevi looks like he might be ready, on attack. Izzy Folau, too.
But what’s the plan to stop Fiji’s offloads? Can a Pooper defence handle support play by giants?
Who is the third and fourth lineout Wallaby option in deep defensive positions? What will the Wallabies do to change the course of the match if it starts to get away?
The uppercuts will be hard and sure. Fiji may dominate the impact zone. What’s the Wallaby counter? It’s happening tomorrow, basically.
What’s the plan, after the punches land?