Rugby Championship

Pocock-Hooper combo proves a hit

2015-08-09 15:30
David Pocock (Gallo Images)

Melbourne - It took Wallabies coach Michael Cheika three matches to get round to it but Australia finally got the back row it had been clamouring for when David Pocock and Michael Hooper started alongside each other in the victory against the All Blacks.

Faced with the selection dilemma of fitting two elite openside flanks into the same side, former players and pundits had harangued Cheika to unleash the pair from the opening whistle of the Rugby Championship rather than pick a preferred number seven and leave the other in reserve.

Cheika duly ignored the calls, though he gave a taste of what could be in the opening matches against South Africa and Argentina.

After replacing number eight Scott Higginbotham in the opener against South Africa, Pocock tore around the field with Hooper in tow to help Australia overhaul the Springboks at Lang Park.

Hooper then gave up the number seven shirt to Pocock against the Pumas in Mendoza but came off the bench in place of number eight Ben McCalman to make his presence felt.

Perhaps tired of playing favourites, Cheika sacrificed a traditional number eight to name both the turnover specialists in his starting side against the All Blacks, a gambit that opposing coach Steve Hansen greeted with skepticism.

The gamble paid off, however, with the pair proving a two-headed, ball-poaching menace at the breakdown while making a series of crunching tackles to thwart the All Blacks' attack in the 27-19 win at Olympic stadium.

Like most of the crowd of 73 000, blindside flank Scott Fardy gave the partnership a ringing endorsement.

"They just do their jobs very well. Both of them were excellent," the bearded back-rower told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.

"When you have two guys hard at the ball like they were, it makes my job pretty easy, organising the defensive line and making my tackles.

"They're a pleasure to play with. You stand and watch in awe sometimes."

Cheika will find it hard to break up the partnership for the re-match at Eden Park on Saturday, where the Wallabies will seek to break a near 30-year winning drought to secure the Bledisloe Cup, the annual trophy contested between the neighbouring nations, for the first time since 2002.

Fardy, however, said he expected Cheika to keep playing with his combinations well into the World Cup.

"I think giving other guys a go, it creates depth and confidence in the group," he said.

"I don't think this team will be settled for a long time. Cheik won't have to make a decision until the World Cup final really, in terms of what he wants."


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