By Nick Mulvenney
OITA, Japan (Reuters) – Australia are keen to make a good start against in England in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, but only because it would give them a strong foundation to finish off the game well, captain Michael Hooper said on Friday.
A large part of the reason the Wallabies are facing the English this weekend is that Wales raced away to a 23-8 halftime lead in the crunch Tokyo match that effectively decided the winners of Pool D.
Australia fought back to within one point in the second half, but the Welsh held on to win 29-25 and now face France on Sunday at the same Oita Stadium where the Wallabies take on England on Saturday.
Hooper said the Australians had talked about “what starting well actually looks like” and he had come to the conclusion that it does not necessarily mean getting a torrent of points on the board in the first half an hour.
“I’ve started to believe that starting well means preparing well for the back end of the game, when it opens up a bit,” he said.
“Starting well means sticking to your principles early, not getting flustered by things that are happening, not getting flustered by the scoreboard because you don’t win the game at halftime.
“Yeah, we want to start to start well. What’s that actually look like? Looks like sticking to our processes and playing the game we want to play with whatever comes at us in that period.”
Hooper will link up with David Pocock against England duo Tom Curry and Sam Underhill in an intriguing back row battle featuring four openside flankers.
The Australia skipper said he had been confused by the inconsistency of some of the refereeing around the ruck at the World Cup, but thought it would be a hard-fought contest.
“It’s going to be a good battle, a good battle. Every Friday you get asked about the back-row combinations,” he said. “The ruck’s a great part of the game, as always, it’s going be a huge part of a test match tomorrow.”
Hooper dismissed as “an unknown” the idea that England, whose final pool match against France was cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis, might have benefited from a couple of weeks off since their last match.
However well their opponents had prepared, though, Hooper said Australia would also be raring to go as they look to book a place in the semi-finals for a third successive World Cup and snap a six-match losing streak against England.
“I’m nervous, but that’s good because it means you care,” he said. “I feel alive, I feel ready to go.”
(Editing by Alex Richardson)