England face Wallabies breakdown challenge

England must be ready for a breakdown battle if they’re to come out on top in the first Test against Australia.

Flanker James Haskell says it’s no secret Wallaby pair Michael Hooper and David Pocock are key elements to coach Michael Cheika’s game plan.

The duo of openside flankers were seen as a selection gamble before 2015’s World Cup campaign but the so-called “Pooper” pairing played a leading role in Australia’s charge to the final.

Hooper and Pocock will reunite for the opening Test against England at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, a pairing Haskell clearly has plenty of respect for.

“It’s a huge challenge. Their whole back row performed extremely well in the World Cup,” Haskell said.

“Pocock was obviously a world-class player already but he kind of gained legendary status after the way he performed in the World Cup.

“(Scott) Fardy was kind of the unsung hero but he was great and Hooper, when I came over and played against him he was probably one of the best players I played against in my entire time in Super 15.”

Hooper and Pocock’s ball-pinching ability in the breakdown mean the tourists know the battle for possession at the breakdown is going to be crucial.

“You’ve just got to be on red alert that the breakdown’s a massive area,” he said.

“Every back row, you’ve just got to make sure your clear-out’s all right. If your clear-out’s not right against any team then they’re going to cause you trouble.

“We’re fully aware of what Australia bring and how good they are.”

England could pull a selection surprise of their own, with speculation lock Maro Itoje might be chosen in the back row.

Itoje has had a dominant club season with Saracens and Haskell says his winning mentality would help him make a success if he were selected.

“He’s played in all sorts of positions for Sarries and, at the end of the day, it’s about balance really in the back row. It’s not about the number on your shirt,” he said.

“If that’s an option then I’m sure he’ll do outstandingly well there.”

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