Michael Hooper will embrace the return of David Pocock but says it’s unclear exactly how the Wallabies’ loose forwards will line up at the Rugby World Cup.
The combination of Hooper, Isi Naisarani and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto has started all four Tests for Australia this year and largely impressed until they ran into an All Blacks brick wall at Eden Park.
The 36-0 whipping on Saturday highlighted the absence of Pocock’s ball-pilfering qualities, with New Zealand setting up victory via their breakdown dominance.
Yet a week earlier, the likes of powerhouse blindside flanker Salakaia-Loto – the man seemingly most under pressure when Pocock returns – reigned supreme at the collisions in Australia’s 21-point triumph.
Despite not having played since March due to a calf injury, champion flanker Pocock is certain to be named in Australia’s World Cup squad this Friday and coach Michael Cheika has promised a playing return in the pre-tournament hitout against Samoa in Sydney on September 7.
Hooper said a return to the twin openside flanker set-up of recent years – with both Pocock and himself starting – is a possibility but no certainty at the World Cup.
When they used that combination, Pocock generally played from No.8 but newcomer Naisarani has made an impression as a valuable ball-carrier in his absence.
“David’s on-ball play is obviously a huge factor, the guy’s the best in the world in that area,” Hooper said.
“But in saying that, I’ve been really impressed with Isi over the ball. The guy is a couple of games into his Test career and he’s really putting up his hand, along with Lukhan.
“I’m really enjoying playing with those sort of guys, we’re getting some nice continuity there but … Dave’s looking good so there’s going to be some good back row combinations coming up.”
Aside from Pocock, there are no injury question marks for Cheika to contend with.
The hand fracture that ruled lock Rory Arnold out of the Bledisloe Cup decider is not serious and he will be fit to face Samoa.
Hooper urged his teammates not to get downcast about the heavy defeat, pointing to progress made across the board following a miserable 2018.
“We’ve talked about where we’ve come from since last year,” he said.
“We had a lot of growth and momentum building in the last couple of weeks and we’re able now to have look at how we’re able to get better.”