The Wallabies have been given the ultimate boost ahead of Sunday’s World Cup semi-final against Argentina, with superstar duo David Pocock and Israel Folau named in the starting line-up.
The pair ran through training on Friday, with Pocock joining in line-out drills, as they convinced coach Michael Cheika they were fit be in contention to face the Pumas.
Both players will be given until after the captain’s run on Saturday (Sunday AEDT) to cement their places in the starting XV.
However, prop Scott Sio was unable to overcome an elbow injury suffered in a collapsed scrum against Scotland last weekend, and has been 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 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.
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.
No other Australian comes close to matching the 10 turnovers he’s claimed across three games – with fellow back-rower Scott Fardy and lock Dean Mumm owning three apiece.
On Friday, former Wallabies captain Sterling 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.
Speaking prior to the team naming, Cheika said he would not be resting any players – indicating that there was no thought given to resting Pocock with one eye on a potential final against either New Zealand or South Africa.
“It’s a World Cup semi-final so it’s not like we’re keeping anyone for next week,” he said.
The inclusion of Pocock and Folau relegates No.8 Ben McCalman and utility back Kurtley Beale back to the bench, after both had started against Scotland.
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.
But, like captain Stephen Moore and veteran centre Matt Giteau did last week when they celebrated their 100th Tests, Hooper was eager to deflect attention away from his achievements.
Wallabies team to face Argentina:
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.