Wallabies duo forced Cheika’s hand
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika believes he’s covered his tracks to accommodate the bold selection of starting openside stars David Pocock and Michael Hooper against the All Blacks.
The two flankers will combine with the aim of terrorising the New Zealanders at the breakdown in the Rugby Championship decider which doubles as the first of Two Bledisloe Cup Tests, with Pocock picked out of position at No.8 to shoehorn them both in.
“The way they both played in game one (against South Africa) and game two (against Argentina) both as starter or off the bench, I think they forced my hand into saying ‘let’s see if this can try and work’,” Cheika said on Thursday.
“I believe it can (work) and the way we’ve set up our team up accordingly will go to support that.”
Picking the two flankers caused a ripple effect in the Wallabies setup with Dean Mumm bolstering the lineout, bumping powerhouse lock Will Skelton onto the bench, while experienced second-rower James Horwill returns in place of injured Rob Simmons.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was quick to point out Cheika’s call to start the No.7s gave his side something to exploit and believes the decision was based on what South Africa did last weekend against New Zealand as the world champions scraped home for a last-gasp win.
“They (South Africa) were particularly good with their two fetchers on the track. They caused us problems for a while, so I don’t think you needed to be a rocket scientist to work out he (Cheika) would probably go with that,” Hansen said.
“Whilst that gives (the Wallabies) strength in some areas it probably weakens them in others.
“So we’ve just got to make sure we take advantage of those weaknesses and make sure that we don’t allow them to have a field day at the breakdown.”
Cheika said his decision wasn’t inspired by the South Africans.
“The Springboks probably have a lot more onballers than we do … we don’t really play as much like that. I don’t see these two lads (Hooper and Pocock) as one dimensionally as onballers,” he said.
“When going into this territory (facing NZ), the challenge is going to be the set-piece and that’s something we’ve worked hard on at training.”
Pocock relished starting in tandem with Hooper as they go hunting all-important turnovers against the world champions.
“It’s obviously a big challenge and I’m pretty excited about it,” he said.
“Hoops and I have been talking a fair bit about playing alongside each other.”
Hooper was equally excited at what they could achieve together.
“It’s a cool new challenge to get that relationship going on the field to benefit the team,” Hooper said.
Matt Giteau, a veteran of 93 Tests, returns from injury for his first start against New Zealand since 2011, at inside centre with Bernard Foley at five-eighth, while Drew Mitchell makes his first start of the international season on the wing.
Powerful loosehead prop Scott Sio will make his run-on debut after impressing off the bench.
Pocock’s inclusion at No.8 meant there was no room for Wycliff Palu who missed the opening two Tests when rested and he will play club rugby this weekend for Manly.
Quade Cooper was a notable omission from the squad, with Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale filling bench utility roles.