Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says David Pocock and Michael Hooper left him no choice but to start them together for the first time in Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider.
The two star openside flankers will combine to terrorise the All Blacks at the breakdown in the ANZ Stadium clash, with Pocock picked out of position at No.8 to shoehorn them both in.
“The way they both played in game one (against South Africa) and game two (against Argentina) both as starter or off the bench, I think they forced my hand into saying ‘let’s see if this can try and work’,” Cheika said on Thursday.
“I believe it can (work) and the way we’ve set up our team up accordingly will go to support that.”
Pocock relished starting in tandem with Hooper as they go hunting all-important turnovers against the world champions.
“It’s obviously a big challenge and I’m pretty excited about it,” he said.
“Hoops and I have been talking a fair bit about playing alongside each other.”
Hooper was equally excited at what they could achieve together.
“It’s a cool new challenge to get that relationship going on the field to benefit the team,” Hooper said.
Cheika has gone for experience as well as a big injection of pace in his forward pack in a clear pointer to his thinking for the World Cup starting next month.
Adding further mobility to the forwards, Dean Mumm gets a start at the expense of giant lock Will Skelton.
Matt Giteau, a veteran of 93 Tests, returns from injury for his first start against New Zealand since 2011, at inside centre between five eighth Bernard Foley and Tevita Kuridrani.
Back from playing overseas like Giteau and Mumm, veteran winger Drew Mitchell gets his first opportunity in the Wallabies starting side this international season, joining Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau in the Wallabies back three.
Powerful loosehead prop Scott Sio will make his run-on debut after impressing off the bench.
While the demoted Skelton will have bench spot, Pocock’s inclusion at No.8 meant there was no room in the match squad for Wycliff Palu who missed the opening two Test when rested.
Nor was there any place for playmaker Quade Cooper, who had mixed performances against South Africa and Argentina, with Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale filling bench utility roles.
Cheika said Palu would play Sydney club rugby for Manly on Saturday, while winger Henry Speight, who is available after serving suspension, will be considered for selection in Saturday week’s second Bledisloe Test in Auckland.
Wallabies: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill, Dean Mumm, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Will Skelton, Ben McCalman, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale.