Former captain Stirling Mortlock has tackled the elephant in the Australian team room, declaring the Wallabies can’t win the Rugby World Cup without David Pocock.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is refusing to publicly rate Australia’s prospects without their inspirational back-rower, who remains only an outside chance of recovering from a calf injury in time for Sunday’s semi-final against Argentina at Twickenham.
Mortlock, though, not only doubts Australia’s ability to win without Pocock but also fears the No.8 is no chance of taking on the Pumas.
“I don’t know how bad the calf is or was but the reality is it’s an injury that you really can’t play with it torn or it’s not 100 per cent. You just can’t,” Australia’s 2007 World Cup captain told AAP.
“It impacts on your proprioception, your power. Everything you’re doing, it impacts you dramatically.
“And for Dave and the way that he plays the game – the awareness of space and the dynamics of what’s doing at the breakdown – there’s just no way you could even push him to play even if you wanted to.
“So as much as it pains me to think I don’t think we’re going to win without him, you can’t push it.
“So it becomes an absolute pretty clear decision for the medical staff and the coaching staff.”
Apart from his breakdown work and simply getting around the field, Mortlock says it’s simply impossible to play No.8 and anchor a scrum with even the slightest calf strain.
Withstanding the might of a near one-tonne Pumas pack from the back of Australia’s scrum is effectively one huge calf stretch.
“That loads up your calf dramatically. There’s no way you can get around it,” Mortlock said.
“If he’s still not up to 100 per cent, then he’s not going to be able to perform any of his duties.
“You’ve got to emotion out of it. Yes it is a World Cup. Yes it is our biggest game.
“But the flip side if he plays and blows it early, it leaves the Wallabies one man short.
“It’s a massive risk.”
While he believes the Wallabies, with their improved depth across the park and especially in the back row, can scrape past the Pumas, Mortlock says winning a third World Cup without Pocock is a bridge too far.
“The reality is when he’s played, he’s been the best player at the tournament,” he said.
“And if you take the best player in the tournament out of your side, it’s going to leave a massive dent.
“I really feel for Dave. You look at his history and he’s had so many obstacles and been through so much to get back.
“To have that steely resolve to make it back from such serious (knee) injuries and then have it taken away from you because of an annoying calf injury, I really feel for him.”
Cheika is due to name his team to face Argentina on Friday (Saturday morning AEDT), with Mortlock expecting the coach to give his most influential forward until match day to prove his fitness.
Star fullback Israel Folau (ankle) and prop Scott Sio (elbow) are also in major doubt.