The dynamic tag-team duo of David Pocock and Michael Hooper have the potential to decide the Rugby World Cup final, but New Zealand believe it would be unwise to devise plans to stop them.
The ball-thieving duo were at the heart of Australia’s only victory over New Zealand in their past 11 outings – a 27-19 win in Sydney in August which sealed the Rugby Championship.
That was their first outing as a starting back-row pairing and gave an insight into what the All Blacks will have to contend with at Twickenham on Saturday (Sunday 0300 AEDT).
As a starting back-row Hooper, Pocock and the unheralded Scott Fardy are unbeaten in four Tests – and have cemented themselves this World Cup as a force to be reckoned with.
Pocock, who has shifted from openside flanker to No.8 to accommodate both he and Hooper in the back-row, was reluctant to discuss his head-to-head battle with champion All Blacks flanker Richie McCaw.
Legends from both sides of the Tasman agree that the battle of the breakdown will be crucial in deciding which nation becomes the first to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time.
However ,veteran All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu, who along with champions McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu will retire after the World Cup, said it would be a trap to focus too much attention on the breakdown.
“We understand (Pocock) is a good player, but there are so many parts of the game that if we concentrate on one we’ll end up not doing anything else,” said Mealamu.
“We understand he’s a big part of them but there’s plenty of strings to their bow that are just as important that we need to make sure we account for.
“It doesn’t get any easier for us.”
After Australia’s stirring victory 11 weeks ago, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the Wallabies had been able to control the ruck so effectively because New Zealand had let them play that way – and promptly made significant changes for the Bledisloe Cup decider.
New Zealand ran out comprehensive 41-13 winners that night, as Wallabies coach Michael Cheika also sprung some surprises – dropping Pocock to the bench in a move many viewed as holding a few cards up his sleeve for the World Cup.
Cheika said that decision wouldn’t be validated unless it is his team celebrating on Saturday night.
“There’s no justification now. Justification is next (Saturday),” he said.
“Not of those things but of what we’ve been doing and how we’ve been trying to improve and what we’ve been trying to get the team to look like.
“That’s what it is. They’re the decisions you make.
“Are you happy to go home with a pat on the back because everyone was happy that you’ve come this far or do you want to do something special?”