The Wallabies have a Pooper problem, but fortunately it’s not a return of Suzie the lunch lady.
Suzie was the infamous and almost certainly imaginary figure who supposedly scuppered the All Blacks’ title chances by poisoning their food and giving Kiwi players the runs on the eve of the 1995 World Cup final loss to South Africa.
But “Pooper” could be the key to the Wallabies’ chances at a record third title.
It is the moniker given to the combination of world-class No.7s David Pocock and Michael Hooper – who coach Michael Cheika is expected to call on as two-thirds of his back-row when Australia open their tournament against Fiji on Wednesday (Thursday AEST).
The duo paired up with great success in a tightly-contested victory over the All Blacks in Sydney in August, prompting calls to make it a permanent switch.
“It’s been done and it’s worked well for us,” says Scott Fardy, the locked-in No.6 and final piece of the Wallabies back-row puzzle.
“If you look at the backrow combinations (Cheika) has thrown, they’ve all been from week to week in the five Tests we’ve played this year.
“It’s important that across the board we’re all like that, we’re all adjustable to the gameplan we’ve got for that week.
“We’re not focused on ‘the Pooper’ or whatever you want to call it.
If Pocock is to settle in as the first-choice No.8 for the tournament, he will at least have wise heads to call on – Cheika had a distinguished club career at the back of the scrum.
There is also Stephen Larkham, the Brumbies head coach and Wallabies backs coach, who Pocock singled out for praise for his efforts in improving his attacking game.
Pocock hasn’t always been a fan of Larkham’s however – he recalled “bawling his eyes out” when the former No.10 slotted the decisive field goal from near halfway against South Africa to send the Wallabies into the 1999 World Cup final, where they would beat France.
“I left the lounge, went straight to my room and just lay in bed crying,” said Zimbabwe-born and raised Pocock, whose favourite player growing up was the Springbok No.8 Bobby Skinstad.
Australia will be without No.8 candidate Wycliff Palu (hamstring) for their Fijian clash, further shortening the odds of Pocock getting the call.
The 27-year-old insists he is equally comfortable playing openside flanker or at the back of the scrum, and explained that he has drawn inspiration from the likes of Richie McCaw and George Smith – players who have evolved their game to stay at the top of world rugby.
“Essentially when you’re out there you’re just backing your decisions and trying to work together as a backrow,” he said.
“It’s a challenging role but that’s what you want.
“… The hallmark of your Richies, George Smiths, Brian O’Driscolls, those legends of the game is their consistency.
“They produce special performances over a long period of time.
“Over the years you challenge yourself and change your skillset as the game changes, to hopefully be in a position (to make your mark in the big moments).
“This is the ultimate for rugby. This is the time to stand up and be counted.”