The Wallabies selectors face a dilemma before Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup decider as they weigh up whether to play champion flanker David Pocock – and, if so, where.
The breakdown king hasn’t played since March due to a persistent calf injury but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika indicated last week he could be available for the return showdown with the All Blacks at Auckland’s Eden Park on Saturday.
After storming to a dominant 47-26 win in Perth, the Australians have given themselves their best chance to claim the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in 17 years.
Cheika and his fellow selectors must be sorely tempted to reward the same team with selection, especially given the need to build combinations before the World Cup.
He also has a painful reminder of what chopping and changing can do.
After Australia won the opening Bledisloe match in Sydney in 2015, Cheika made eight changes for the return game in Auckland, insisting it was all about World Cup preparation, and saw his team thumped 41-13.
But Pocock is no ordinary player and, after Saturday’s match, there’s only one Test – against Samoa early next month – remaining before the Wallabies’ opening World Cup game in Japan.
That could provide a gentler reintroduction for the valuable Pocock.
Cheika said he hadn’t made a call on any changes.
“I’ve obviously got the selectors as well, so we will sit down and go through what we’re thinking,” Cheika said.
“I’d like to think anyone who goes in, including the players who didn’t play (in Perth), understands they are part of trying to build the squad and its mentality going forward.”
If the Wallabies do decide to give 31-year-old Pocock a gallop on Saturday, they must then work out how to best use his skills – even if it means off the bench.
The Australian back-row of Michael Hooper and big boppers Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Isi Naisairani appeared better balanced than New Zealand’s and got the wood on of much-heralded trio Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Kieran Read.
With the All Blacks fielding two openside flankers as the Wallabies have done in the past using Pocock and Hooper, this time it was Australia who could use their size to dominate.
With Salakaia-Loto and Naisarani providing the go-forward, Hooper was everywhere at the breakdown and also managed to rack up a massive 18 carries to his opposite Cane’s one.
“I’m not a coach or anything and I’m not too sure how far away he is, but to have someone like him around the team – he’s world class,” Arnold said.
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