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All Blacks trial their 'Pooper'

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All Blacks trial own brand 'Pooper'

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Wallabies will be feeling pretty smug after the All Blacks unveiled their own version of “Pooper” for the Bledisloe Cup opener.

However, the world champions have hinted that starting with two specialist openside flankers – and having a third on the bench – in Perth on Saturday could be a case of smoke and mirrors.

Having struggled to identify his best blindside flanker for the World Cup, coach Steve Hansen has asked in-form No.7 Ardie Savea to swap sides, teaming up with fellow openside Sam Cane, with skipper Kieran Read completing the backrow trio.

It immediately sparked comparisons with Australia’s long-established but undersized combination of David Pocock and Michael Hooper, or “Pooper”.

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Pocock’s calf injury means the Wallabies will for once boast the bigger back row in a trans-Tasman Test, with captain Hooper joined again by ball runners Isi Naisirani and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.

The size discrepancy extends to the bench, where Australian loose forward cover Luke Jones towers over Matt Todd.

Skipper Kieran Read completes the visiting trio at No.8 but Hansen hinted strongly that Savea would spend time at the back of the scrum and employ the acceleration and power running that has been a hallmark of 2019.

The canny coach provided some insight when asked if the numbers on the jerseys of his back-rowers were relevant.

“We don’t need to tell Australia everything do we? But probably not, they’re only numbers.”

Wallabies counterpart Michael Cheika is well aware Savea won’t play as a classical openside, having already identified the 36-Test veteran as a “hybrid” forward after coaching him in the Barbarians team four years ago.

“You get to see the player for what he is and he’s a bit of a hybrid between a No. 8, a six and a seven,” Cheika said.

“Often that can hurt players but he’s a good enough player to be able to push through that and continually be selected for New Zealand.

“We’ve always had that; we’ve played Pocock and Hooper together … I don’t think the profile of any player is the essential element, it’s more the quality of the player and he’s obviously got good quality … we’ll have to watch him closely.”

– AAP

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All Blacks trial own brand 'Pooper'