Pocock could miss start in RWC quarter-final
DAVID Pocock is in a three-way tussle for the two backrow spots beside rested skipper Michael Hooper for the Wallabies' defining quarter-final collision at the Rugby World Cup.
Coach Michael Cheika this week threw down the gauntlet to backrowers Pocock, Isi Naisarani and reactivated Jack Dempsey when he said big performances would count against Georgia in Shizuoka on Friday night.
Pocock will lead the side while regular captain-flanker Hooper will be on the bench for the first time in a Test since 2015 after stepping up for 50 minutes against Uruguay last weekend.
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"You are going to think the captain (Hooper) is going to play (the quarter-final) so, yes, in reality the others are competing for the spots," Cheika said.
Cheika backed Naisarani's big ball-carting in the backrow for the opening two matches of the tournament in Japan so he is clearly the frontrunner to join Pocock and Hooper in any quarter-final backrow combination.
Dempsey bullocked his way into this chance with his strong show of footwork, running, hustle and the deft setting up of Will Genia's try against Uruguay.
He can push his case for a reserve's spot against likely quarter-final rival England but the Wallabies would think long and hard about discarding the size and physical clout of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto against such a giant pack.
Cheika drummed in the point that improved discipline to get on the right side of the penalty count and avoid high tackle trouble was imperative against the physical Georgians.
"One of the huge things hurting us and our starts is penalties at key moments and some are really poor ones," Cheika said.
"We've got to be targeting zero because the net effect is the momentum it stops in our attack."
Losing more players to yellow cards after Adam Coleman and Salakaia-Loto were lost for high tackles against Uruguay is unacceptable.
"No matter how you see the pictures the penalties are real and you can't be losing players," Cheika said of the crackdown on anything resembling contact with the head or neck.
Centre Samu Kerevi said the low tackle accent at training had been reinforced and that a sound defensive structure overall was the best way to combat loose tackles.
"You tend to go high more when you are sitting back (and scrambling) when not in your defensive principles so we want to be sticking to them," Kerevi said.
Only Marika Koroibete would seem assured of a quarter-final spot among the wingers but versatile Dane Haylett-Petty saw no issue with the Wallabies keeping selections competitive every week.
"It was more pick-and-stick in the past but I think the strategy here is working well with people pushing for spots all the way along and taking opportunities," Haylett-Petty said.
Haylett-Petty took his with a strong showing against Wales and his sure work under the high ball would give him an edge for wing work against an England side which uses contestable kicks so well.
Kerevi is rooming with Jordan Petaia and is delighted the youngster gets the chance to build on his try-making Test debut with another shot against Georgia.
"I expected what I saw from him because he's smart for one so young and very good athletically," Kerevi said.