Michael Hooper talks to David Pocock of the Wallabies during a training session.
Michael Hooper talks to David Pocock of the Wallabies during a training session.

Analysis: The pros and cons of the Wallabies ‘Pooper’ combo

Greg Martin has always called a spade a spade and the former Wallaby has a blunt rationale as to why Australia's selectors have got it right by reuniting David Pocock and Michael Hooper at the Rugby World Cup.

"They're our two best players, he and Hooper, so why not have them on the field as long as you can," Martin told Fox Sports News ahead of Saturday's opening clash with Fiji in Sapporo.

As reported first by foxsports.com.au, the Wallabies are expected to on Thursday name both star flankers in their run-on side, with Isi Naisarani providing the ball carrying punch and lineout option from No 8.

Australia reached the 2015 World Cup final under Michael Cheika with Pocock starring at No 8, Hooper at openside and Scott Fardy on the blindside.

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Breakdown freak Pocock is retiring from Test rugby after the World Cup and played his first game in six months against Samoa earlier this month following a troublesome calf injury.

He impressed, and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Jack Dempsey are the ones to be shunted down the pecking order.

Martin said Pocock, who captained Australia in the win over Samoa, extinguished any doubts about his World Cup readiness at Bankwest Stadium.

"He was physical, his running with the ball was solid, his tackling was wonderful," Martin said.

"He didn't get over the ball at the breakdown too often, which we know he's the best in the world at, so that will come.

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Michael Hooper and David Pocock of Australia in action during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Michael Hooper and David Pocock of Australia in action during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

"I thought he looked wonderful.

"I know George Smith said 'no, bring him on as a super sub' - mate, I want to see him on there from the start.

"I reckon three lineout jumpers is enough to give you combinations and options so you either pick Naisarani or Salakaia-Loto as the other backrower and work around those two.

"I reckon the Pooper still works, mate.

"We haven't seen it for a fair while but they're the two best players around the field so why sacrifice something for some height that we maybe don't need.

"It'll probably be Naisarani, whether he plays 8 or 6 and wherever Pocock wants to go.

"We've got backup as well but they have to be together."

WHAT THE OTHER EXPERTS SAY ABOUT THE 'POOPER' COMBO...

Wallabies great George Smith, who often played alongside Phil Waugh in a similarly mobile backrow, said he would have stuck with the Hooper, Salakaia-Loto, Naisarani trio that played in the 1-1 Bledisloe Cup series.

"I think the combination is working well, I think persisting with that would be great," Smith said at the Kayo Sports World Cup launch.

"Pocock has done a lot to get back to where he is now, so I can see them working together on the field at the one time, and also Pocock coming off the bench."

Owen Finegan, a World Cup-winning Wallabies loose forward in 1999, disagreed.

"I think with Isi, Pocock and Hooper you have a really dominant back row," Finegan said.

"Australia got through to the 2003 World Cup final with Phil Waugh and George Smith so it has been proven that you can get there.

Finegan did admit that the 'Pooper' ploy would affect the lineout so the Wallabies would have to be "clever" to secure possession.

Two-time World Cup winner Phil Kearns would also run with the dynamic duo - similar to what the All Blacks are expected to unleash with Sam Cane and Ardie Savea.

"When you're talking about the best sixes and sevens in the world, Hooper and Pocock would get a mention," Kearns said.

"The workrate's phenomenal but if you've got those two, you need a tall back-rower as well and perhaps that's where we're lacking."

On the Fox Rugby Podcast, former Wallabies Drew Mitchell and Stephen Hoiles were both in the Pocock off the bench camp.

"Salakaia-Loto, Naisarani and Hooper with Pocock coming off the bench with 25 to go and getting some crucial turnovers at a crucial point in the game," Mitchell said.

"I'd always start Hoops and have Poey off the bench," Hoiles added.

"I'm OK with Dempsey starting at 6 with Salakaia-Loto on the bench and Pocock on the bench too."

Semi Kunatani of Fiji.
Semi Kunatani of Fiji.

HOW WILL FIJI COMBAT THE 'POOPER' COMBO...

Fiji assistant coach Tabai Matson revealed his side had always expected to face Pocock and Hooper from the kickoff and had spent two months working on ways to combat that.

Fiji's backrow is likely to include two sevens gold medallists from the 2016 Rio Olympics, Viliame Mata and Semi Kunatani, to complement captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu.

"Could we achieve an upset?

"If we prepare well and click on the day, it'll be a good game and we have a chance," Matson said.

"We feel a bit like David and Goliath, but we'll see.

"You look at Pocock and Hooper and a number of other Wallabies, and they are world class so the breakdown is something we've focused on for the last two months."

News Corp Australia


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