How the Wallabies can be better without Pocock
David Pocock led from the front against Wales (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
David Pocock’s injury has opened the door for Michael Hooper to start at openside flanker and change the way the Wallabies play.
There is no doubt that Pocock is a huge loss for Australia. Apart from being the captain and a wonderful leader, the Brumbies-bound forward is a force of nature at the breakdown and a strong defender.
He is one of the best in the world at stealing the ball.
But, I tend to agree with Spiro Zavos’ assertion – that Pocock can be, at times, a two-trick pony.
His strength is immense but he is not the quickest around the park nor the greatest ball-player.
These are two assets the 20-year Hooper has.
Anyone who has watched Super Rugby and the Brumbies this year has seen the ability of the nuggety Manly-product to find holes and make breaks. He ain’t the biggest but he is very tough, puts his body on the line and he has speed to burn.
He wins the ball at the breakdown and has a decent passing game. He also knows how the find the try-line – he’s scored five tries in 30 games, many of those where he came off the bench for only 20 minutes or so.
As I’ve written previously – Hooper is one of the outstanding young talents in Australian rugby. The new NSW Waratah has had a breakout season this year for the ACT.
I am not saying he should replace Pocock or that Pocock should be benched in favour for Hooper. What I am saying, is that Hooper is the ideal replacement for the injured Pocock at no 7, and when Pocock is back, starting with the incoming Brumby at 6 and the Waratahs-bound Hooper at 7 is worth trying.
This would give the Wallabies more speed in its back-row, better ball-stealing at the breakdown and more attacking options.
If the Wallabies are to beat the All Blacks, they need to be an attacking threat. At the moment they aren’t. There are too many defence-focused selections.
They need speed, the ability to quick ball at the breakdown and unpredictability to defeat New Zealand.
Players like Hooper, Quade Cooper and Ben Tapuai need to come into the calculation. If we can’t break the All Blacks; line and cause problems for their defence, we won’t beat them. Valiant 8-point losses are all well and good, but they won’t get the Bledisloe Cup back after a 9-year absence.
Australia is already a Test down in its Bledisloe attempt and so, arguably, has little to lose this weekend. Hooper at 7, Higginbotham at 6 and Palu at 8 is worth a shot for Eden Park.
And for when Pocock is fit, selecting two fetchers is a policy worth experimenting with. It wouldn’t be something that lasts 80 minutes, but for 40 or 50 minutes, it could be successful. It would allow a Dennis or Higginbotham to come off the bench and make a real impact late in the game.
The simple truth for Robbie Deans is that his Wallabies side remains a work in progress. At the moment, apart from Will Genia at 9 and Digby Ioane on the wing, there a few certainties.
Making the right call at openside flanker and finding the correct replacement at fullback for Kurtely Beale, who has hardly played any rugby this year, are his biggest priorities.
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