David Pocock and Israel Folau have cleared their final fitness hurdle, completing the Wallabies’ captain’s run training session to confirm their places for Sunday’s World Cup semi-final with Argentina.
The return of the world class duo has given the Wallabies the ultimate boost, but teammates have cautioned not to expect a magic fix to their flaws from Pocock and Folau, who overcame calf and ankle injuries respectively.
The pair trained properly for the first time in a fortnight on Friday and backed it up with another strong session at Saturday’s captain’s run which confirmed their fitness to face the Pumas at Twickenham on Sunday (Monday 0300 AEDT).
Veteran winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, who will become Australia’s second-most experienced World Cup campaigner when he plays his 16th match this weekend, welcomed their return but said it was important for everyone to step up.
“Those two are world-class players, hence the time ‘Cheik’ has been giving them to prove their fitness,” he said.
“Having those two back in the team is definitely a boost but we can’t rely on those guys coming back in and performing everything.
“We have to perform our role.”
The Wallabies will be without prop Scott Sio who hasn’t overcome an elbow injury suffered in a collapsed scrum against Scotland last weekend.
He will be replaced in the front row by the experienced James Slipper – the man who held the No.1 jersey until relinquishing it to the young buck earlier this year.
Slipper faces a strong shot at redemption following his horror intercept pass to Scotland’s Mark Bennett that nearly ended the Wallabies’ campaign.
Sio has been a revelation at the tournament, playing a key role in turning the Wallabies scrum from a joke into a weapon, and Slipper will have a big job on his hands against Argentina’s outstanding forward pack.
Slipper will also become Australia’s most capped prop when he packs down for his 73rd Test.
But the big inclusion is Pocock.
Despite missing last week’s get-out-of-jail victory over Scotland, and being rested for the pool stage thrashing of Uruguay, the 27-year-old still leads not just the Wallabies but the entire tournament in turnovers won.
He’s pinched the ball 10 times, while no other Australian has more than three.
On Friday, former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock addressed the elephant in the room of Australian rugby when he admitted the World Cup hinged on Pocock’s ability to overcome a calf strain.
The inclusion of Pocock and Folau relegates No.8 Ben McCalman and utility back Kurtley Beale to the bench, after both had started against Scotland.
Beale has starred off the bench throughout the World Cup and provides the Wallabies with versatility late in games.
“Regardless of whether it was Izzy or (Beale) or Ben McCalman or Poey, we’ve got the belief in the group that we’ve got the cattle to go out there and get the job done,” winger Drew Mitchell said.
“This week those two, along with the other 21 players getting opportunities to pull on the jersey, go out and make the most of what is a great opportunity for us.”
The Test will be vice-captain Michael Hooper’s 50th in the gold jersey, and he becomes the youngest and fastest Wallaby to reach that mark.
Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), James Slipper. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Toby Smith, Greg Holmes, Dean Mumm, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale.
Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet, Santiago Cordero, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Martin Hernandez, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo; Leonardo Senatore, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Ramiro Herrera, Agustin Creevy (capt), Marcos Ayerza. Res: Julian Montoya, Lucas Noguera, Juan Figallo, Matias Alemanno, Facundo Isa, Tomas Cubelli, Jeronimo De La Fuente, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.