All Blacks No.8 Ardie Savea and prop Nepo Laulala are on paternity leave and will miss the third Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia next weekend, coach Ian Foster has said.
Australia will draw on their extensive big-game experience in a bid to spoil the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup final farewell for all-time champions Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
Fourteen of Australia’s likely starting line-up, tasked with depriving the All Blacks of back-to-back World Cup triumphs, have played in a major championship final – primarily in Super Rugby.
But it is the one man in their starting line-up without any experience in a major final who is determined to make history by helping Australia become the first nation to win a third Webb Ellis Cup.
David Pocock’s earliest World Cup memories are of watching the 1995 tournament at his grandfather’s farm, marvelling at his Springbok heroes and attempting to take in the enormity of their stunning upset of New Zealand in the final.
He gets a chance to do the same at Twickenham on Saturday (Sunday 0300 AEDT).
“It’s funny, I was talking to my partner Emma a couple of days ago and she was saying for me as a kid watching the World Cup was such a big thing and those are the guys that you idolise and love watching in every game,” Pocock said.
“Now I’ve got that opportunity to be here playing and be a part of that history. It’s such an amazing opportunity.”
Pocock is widely viewed as the best hope Australia has of effecting a major upset by spoiling the farewell party of some of New Zealand’s greatest players – with the irreplaceable McCaw and Carter heading a star-studded list including Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Keven Mealamu in likely playing their last Tests.
Somewhat remarkably, however, Saturday’s final will be Pocock’s first at senior level – his last being a victory over New Zealand at the under-19 World Cup in 2006.
Pocock, though, did play in the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship-deciding win over the All Blacks in August in Sydney.
Every other Wallaby has a Super Rugby final under his belt, save for veteran winger Drew Mitchell, who scored a blistering try for Toulon in the final of this year’s Heineken Cup.
“Those big pressure moments, the more you’ve experienced that, the more you know what’s coming,” said captain Stephen Moore, who started in the Brumbies’ loss to the Chiefs in the 2013 Super Rugby decider, which Pocock missed through injury.
“Whether it’s your first game or your last, it’s a big game no matter what stage of your career you’re in.
“These games come at different stages in people’s careers. You’ve got to be able to do your best when you get the opportunity.”
Saturday’s clash could also be the last in gold for a host of Wallabies – including the 32-year-old Moore as well as veterans Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia and Matt Giteau, the only Australian to have featured in a World Cup final.
None, though, has formally announced their intentions to retire after the World Cup and Moore says it hasn’t been discussed internally and won’t be used as additional motivation.
“We’re only focused on this game, this opportunity – nothing beyond that,” he said.