SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia captain Michael Hooper has backed flanker David Pocock to shrug off a calf injury and slot back into the Wallabies in time for their shot at a third Rugby World Cup title.
Pocock, one of the Wallabies’ few world class players and a master ball-poacher, retired from Super Rugby on Tuesday to maximise his chances of getting fit for Japan.
“I think he’ll be there,” Hooper told reporters at the unveiling of the Wallabies’ 2019 tournament jersey in Sydney on Wednesday.
“One thing about Dave, aside from his calf, he keeps himself in amazing condition – and that’s hard to do when one of the main things to run with isn’t functioning.”
After coming back from a sabbatical last year, Pocock won the John Eales Medal as Australia’s top player, a bright spot in a dismal season of only four wins from 13 matches.
Fellow flanker Hooper, who mixed with Pocock at a Wallabies camp last week, said his 2018 season was proof the former ACT Brumbies openside could hit the ground running.
“We saw last year from being out for a while and then how he comes back in and can just pull together some amazing performance from not much rugby,” Hooper said.
“His skill set is such quality and he’s so defined in what he does on the field, he’s able to come in and make an immediate impact.
“So, look, I’m betting he’ll be there.”
With an injury cloud over Pocock, and try-scoring fullback Israel Folau sacked for a controversial social media post, Australia’s odds of winning a third World Cup in Japan have ballooned to 17-1 for some bookmakers.
Double defending champions New Zealand are heavy favourites.
“Is that what we’re at, 17-1?” Hooper said when told of the odds on Wednesday.
“I can’t bet on it but that is juicy there.”
Michael Cheika’s Australia were also written off as contenders at the 2015 tournament in England but mounted a surprising run to the final where they lost to Steve Hansen’s All Blacks.
Hooper said the Wallabies’ last World Cup win at the 1999 tournament in Wales also came as a surprise to some.
“Historically Wallaby teams do very well (at World Cups),” Hooper said.
“In the ’99 World Cup, speaking to a couple of players there, years previous to that weren’t record-breaking, amazing years.
“I could be fact-checked on that but from speaking, they weren’t as good as they were when they came in that ’99 World Cup and from there what stemmed afterwards was amazing.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)