The faltering effectiveness of the “Pooper” flanker combination doesn’t concern Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who has demoted the unfortunate Lukhan Salakaia-Loto for their Rugby World Cup opener against Fiji.
The Wallabies will start their renowned openside mix of captain Michael Hooper and David Pocock for the 25th time in Saturday’s Test at the Sapporo Dome, in the only change to the XV who stunned the All Blacks in Perth last month.
Based on recent results, it’s a tactic that could be labelled questionable, despite the accomplished career of both forwards.
Australia have won 12 and lost 12 of the Tests featuring the Pooper combination. However, last year their record was just two wins from 10 together as the Wallabies slumped to string of defeats
Salakaia-Loto, who turned 23 on Thursday, has been a better recent bet for Australia, having been involved in four wins and six losses when starting at No.6 over the last two years.
Coach Cheika emphasised the selection was for Australia’s opening match only and the selectors would reset their team for Wales a week later.
“We’re only thinking about one game, I’ve said it from day one. (Pocock’s) selection is for this game and after that we’ll work out a team for the next game.”
Cheika opted for the 31-year-old partly because of his mature qualities in case things turn pear-shaped against a Fiji team stacked with attacking weapons.
The Queensland Reds enforcer stood out in the 47-26 demolition of the world champions in Perth and his absence could place pressure on a Wallabies lineout that has been functioning well.
Cheika said while there were obvious differences between the two, the nod to Pocock wasn’t simply because of his breakdown prowess.
“Rest assured, these players (Pocock and Hooper) aren’t selected just for their play on the ground.
“There’s a lot of other facets to the game where they can contribute to the team, both in attack and defence. And from an experience point of view as well.”
The other most contentious selection was the halves, where Nic White and Christian Lealiifano were again favoured over the 2015 World Cup pairing of Will Genia and Bernard Foley.
Cheika said starting pair had shown “the ability to create, in attack and defence” making the difference in another difficult call.