By Greg Stutchbury
SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) – Michael Cheika had no qualms in reinstating his ‘Pooper’ loose forward combination for their World Cup Pool D opener against Fiji, with David Pocock and Michael Hooper’s experience as important as their threat at the breakdown.
Pocock, who only made his return to rugby earlier this month after battling a long-term calf injury, will wear the number six jersey while Hooper will play openside flanker.
Isi Naisarani will stay at number eight with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who impressed as blindside flanker this season, dropped to the bench.
Pocock’s return last month from a long-standing calf injury, however, signalled that Cheika was likely to reinstate the ‘Pooper’ combination that he used at the last World Cup in England, although Pocock played there as a number eight.
“With the first game of the World Cup we went for a little bit more experience, just for this first one,” Cheika told reporters at the team hotel in Sapporo. “They have done this before, the two boys playing together.”
Pocock has played 78 tests, while Hooper has appeared in 95.
The selection of the duo, however, does upset the balance of the loose forward mix against a big, fast and physical Fijian pack, who could look to exert dominance at the breakdown and in contact, and put pressure on the Wallabies’ lineout.
Cheika, however, said he had enough confidence in the balance of the rest of his pack.
“There is obviously quite a big difference between Lukhan and David but they will achieve the same outcomes for us with their own special skillset,” he said.
“Our goal is to have a team that can lift games really quite easily. It can’t be dependent on any one player. We have got multiple options.”
Cheika said he felt Hooper and Pocock brought more to the team than pilfering or slowing down Fiji’s ball.
“We want as much ball as we can so if we get it off the ground then that’s a bonus,” he said.
“But these players are not selected just for their ability on the ground. There are a lot of other facets to their game, in terms of what they give the team on both attack and defence.
“We have worked on the possibility of this combination for the last couple of weeks so we think it will work well for us.”
15-Kurtley Beale, 14-Reece Hodge, 13-James O’Connor, 12-Samu Kerevi, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-Christian Leali’ifano, 9-Nic White, 8-Isi Naisarani, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-David Pocock, 5-Rory Arnold, 4-Izack Rodda, 3-Allan Alaalatoa, 2-Tolu Latu, 1-Scott Sio
Replacements: 16-Jordan Uelese, 17-James Slipper, 18-Sekope Kepu, 19-Adam Coleman, 20-Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21-Will Genia, 22-Matt Toomua, 23-Dane Haylett-Petty
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ian Ransom)