Most pundits would give the Wallabies no chance of winning the World Cup without Israel Folau.
But former Australian captain Stirling Mortlock has made the startling claim that not only could the Wallabies reign in Japan this year without Folau, but that coach Michael Cheika might even be best off without David Pocock too.
“It’s a warped way to look at it but that’s the way I look at it,” Mortlock told AAP on Thursday.
With Rugby Australia on Thursday night declaring its intention to terminate Folau’s contract following another extraordinary social media attack on homosexuals and slurs against other ‘sinners’, Cheika may need to start planning for life without his record-setting try-scorer.
And that’s okay by Mortlock.
“One thing that a coach once said to me is that, not just in sport but in life, no one’s irreplaceable,” said the Wallabies’ 2007 World Cup skipper.
“You have your time in the sun and someone comes and replaces you, whether it’s through injury or form or old age or whatever it is. That happens.
“You have to be pretty holistic about things at times.”
But while it would be one thing to lose Folau, the prospect of not having David Pocock at the global showpiece as well wouldn’t bear thinking about for Cheika.
Between the two, Folau (2014, 2015, 2017) and Pocock (2010, 2018) have won the John Eales Medal five times.
They are unquestionably Australia’s best back and best forward respectively.
“In particular, looking at the World Cup and those two guys and how influential they’ve been to the team, it would be a significant blow (being without them),” Mortlock said.
“However I’ve been really impressed with the Australian Super Rugby teams and a lot of the players have put up their hand and made good contributions.
“So you’d think the selectors are going to have some hard decisions to actually narrow that squad down to 30 anyway.”
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And if push came to shove, Mortlock would lean towards taking Wallabies captain Michael Hooper to Japan as his No.7.
With Pocock having played minimal Super Rugby this season as he battles a neck injury, Mortlock wouldn’t be overly concerned if the champion flanker wasn’t available.
“I’ve always been pretty negative on having two opensides (in the starting team). I don’t like it. Never have. Never will,” Mortlock said.
“Don’t get me wrong, Dave’s a fantastic player, he’s awesome. But I think we’ve been playing for a long period of time with two opensides.
“They’re both outstanding but I’d prefer to see one of them start and one of them finish. That would be my preference.
“So if one’s unfortunately not available, that makes your decision for you almost, which from my point of view, I like.”
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