Wallabies ready for set-piece test

Michael Cheika’s experiment with starting two openside specialists faces the ultimate test when the Wallabies meet the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship decider at ANZ Stadium.

If it comes off against the world champions on Saturday night, the coach will be hailed as a genius.

Should it fail, there will be a host of critics ready to say “I told you so”.

Debate has been heated since Cheika announced that tearaway flankers Michael Hooper and David Pocock will start together for the first time, some calling it bold and others risky.

It’s certainly a potential game-changer and Australia needs that, not having beaten New Zealand since 2011 and not having won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002.

Cheika’s move means the Wallabies will aim to terrorise the All Blacks at the breakdown, forcing turnovers, just as the Springboks did when they went so close to beating them two weeks ago.

It’s been viewed as a move away from the heavyweight, power-based game Cheika’s NSW Waratahs won the Super Rugby title with in 2014, in favour of a more dynamic, up tempo, speed-based style.

But it leaves the door open in a couple of key areas, something All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has hinted at.

The All Blacks are expected to attack the Wallabies’ new-look and lighter scrum, which has Pocock in the unfamiliar No.8 role, and also at the lineout.

Other changes to the pack include Dean Mumm taking over from giant lock Will Skelton in a new second-row with James Horwill and prop Scott Sio making his starting debut.

That’s a lot of adapting in a short time to establish lineout and scrum combinations.

Australian captain and hooker Stephen Moore insists his team would be ready for a searching set-piece examination.

“We’ve worked really hard on making sure that area of the game is sound,” Moore said on Friday.

“The scrum is going to be an important part of the game, along with the lineout and we’ve prepared in that fashion.”

Hansen believes the Wallabies’ changes are due to South Africa’s success with two on-ball loose forwards when New Zealand scraped home in Johannesburg, but Cheika disputes this.

There’s a train of thought that Cheika is moving away from his usual style after the Highlanders’ emphatic 2015 Super Rugby semi-final win over his Waratahs.

Led by All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith, the Highlanders produced a tactical masterclass to upset the Waratahs.

The Highlanders used a mixed bag of kicks which pinned the Waratahs into corners.

Cheika’s team couldn’t find their rhythm and lineout ball was pilfered at will as the New Zealanders controlled the tempo of the game with their tactical kicking.

It’s expected the All Blacks will pepper Wallabies fullback Israel Folau with plenty of high kicks in the hope of getting some big hits on the superstar early.

Hansen’s side is expected to send plenty of traffic at the Wallabies’ midfield, with Bernard Foley and Matt Giteau sure to be a focus from the likes of big midfielder Sonny Bill Williams.

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