Australia beat the Irish, a further two players were handed their debuts by Michael Cheika and the breakdown King returns. All is well Down Under, or at least it’s getting a lot better.
David Pocock and Michael Hooper, the dynamic duo, renewed their partnership for the first time since the latter part of 2016.
Alongside his back-row compatriot from rival Australian franchise the Waratahs, Pocock gave Australia another dimension, a dimension they’d been missing because, ultimately, no one does what Pocock does as good as Pocock does it.
Put simply; if he decided to call time on his stint in Canberra and declared himself available for the watching world then every professional club would consider him.
The Brumbies star almost rewrote the book on stealing breakdown ball during the 2015 World Cup, jackaling for opposition possession when they committed too fewer players to the ruck or didn’t set up efficiently. Backed up by the athletic and combative Hooper the two formed one of the most menacing double acts in world rugby.
Like Laurel and Hardy on the ice, only these two take to the turf, but like the famous pair they’re the perfect 10; even if their team isn’t. Handing Ireland their first defeat of the year was no easy feat. It went to the wire but Aussie grit eventually told.
Whilst these two exist in the rugby sphere, two thirds of Australia’s back-row is cemented and understandably so. When Cheika glosses over his 2019 World Cup checklist shirts six, seven and eight will not be those left unticked.
Cheika though isn’t without his problems. Since taking over in 2014 his Australia side peaked at the World Cup three years ago, dipped considerably afterwards but are beginning their ascent back up the ladder.
Like his Australian counterpart Eddie Jones, who operates in south London, Cheika has players already on the plane to Asia. The likes of Pocock, Hooper, Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale. Yet outside Beale Samu Kerevi, whilst possessing the talent to play 13, is unable to stamp his authority on such a position. Tevita Kuridrani has been a regular feature in Cheika’s tenure but is he too one dimensional?
Inside Beale Cheika currently persists with two half-backs a class below the world’s elite. Will Genia peaked half a decade ago but the lack of a credible alternative keeps him in possession of the shirt. Bernard Foley appears inconsistent and doesn’t command respect like a Beauden Barrett or an Owen Farrell does.
The pack in front of them is a mixture of class and conundrums in itself. Hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa made his international bow last Saturday but a line-out turnover off his first throw less than 90 seconds in didn’t ooze confidence. Scott Sio is a consistent performer and could well lay claim to the loosehead position. Caleb Timu was the third musketeer alongside Pocock and Hooper at number eight after some impressive displays for the Reds in Super Rugby, yet he didn’t set the world alight. Isi Naisarani could well be the answer in that position once he becomes eligible next March.
Loved being back on the field with the @qantaswallabies. Thanks for all the support!
Thanks to Ireland for the game and congrats to Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Caleb Timu and Pete Samu on their first game in the green and gold.
Big couple of weeks ahead. pic.twitter.com/7zvPPGxxu2
— David Pocock (@pocockdavid) June 10, 2018
The solace for Cheika and Australia as opposed to Jones and England is the presence of settled personnel in key positions. The Wallabies have Hooper, Pocock and Folau whilst England have Vunipola, Farrell and Daly. The problem if you’re English is that Jones is undecided on where Farrell and Daly even fit into his side. So whilst he has the players he’s struggling for a process.
The return of Pocock supplies Cheika with a mental comfort he will have longed for. The 30-year-old’s presence is one less piece of the jigsaw for Cheika to find with time running out. Inevitabilities don’t tend to have much place in rugby but Pocock brings one in the form of his ability on the floor.
Australia are far from the world beating side their coach yearns for them to be and toppling the irresistible All Blacks sometimes appears a redundant task – Saturday’s French demolition a case in point. 460 odd days remain until Pacific Island opposition ignites Australia’s World Cup in the form of Fiji. Cheika may well endure some sleepless nights as he looks to plug the gaps currently unfilled, but a lack of a back-row is certainly not one of the reasons he will toss and turn.