‘Pooper’ combo on the ball for Cup opener

The hardest decision that the Wallabies selectors faced has turned out to be one of easiest with Michael Hooper and David Pocock both expected to play in Australia's World Cup opener against Fiji.

It's the question that rugby followers have been mulling over all year: whether the selectors should make the difficult choice between picking either the Australian skipper or Australia's reigning John Eales medallist, or picking them both together.

While the team won't be formally named until Thursday, it us understood both will start against Fiji, with Hooper at openside flanker and Pocock at blindside.

 

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Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper will be keen to make an impact against Fiji. Picture: Getty Images
Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper will be keen to make an impact against Fiji. Picture: Getty Images

 

At the team's official welcoming ceremony in Sapporo, Cheika said there were proven benefits to playing them together, as they did at the last World Cup in 2015 when the Wallabies made the final.

"If they do play together then it obviously looks different to if we play a more traditional back row," Cheika said. "We're probably more of a threat on the ground. If we play another style of back row we're probably more of a threat on ball carrying or something like that.

"You've seen it before and you've seen how they can play together so you can imagine it yourself."

With Isi Naisarani retaining his starting spot at the back of the scrum, the unlucky player to miss out is Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who will drop back to the bench.

However, he is almost certain to get some game time after Pocock only made his comeback from injury against Samoa two weeks ago.

 

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is expected to start with Michael Hooper and David Pocock in the World Cup opener against Fiji. Picture: Getty Images
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is expected to start with Michael Hooper and David Pocock in the World Cup opener against Fiji. Picture: Getty Images

 

The rest of the starting side is expected to be the same one that played in the Bledisloe Cup matches against New Zealand, with Cheika saying his intention was to pick his strongest possible side for the Pool D opener against Fiji.

"The team's going to be selected based on some performances like what we have used building in to the tournament," Cheika said.

"This is across the whole squad, not just the 23 that we picked.

"We'll pick a team that we think is ready and prepared with some elements maybe particularly for Fiji but really I think looking at the whole flow of what we've had so far and which players will be 100 per cent ready for the game on Saturday."

The World Cup is starting feel real now for the Wallabies after they were presented with their commemorative medals and caps at their official welcome on Wednesday night after flying into Sapporo following a day training camp in Odawara.

 

Marika Koroibete was in a playful mood at welcome ceremy for the Wallabies at Ebetsu Ceramic Art Center in Hokkaido. Picture: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley
Marika Koroibete was in a playful mood at welcome ceremy for the Wallabies at Ebetsu Ceramic Art Center in Hokkaido. Picture: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley

 

They will get their first look at the space-age Sapporo Dome when they train at the venue on Friday, 24 hours before their showdown with Pacific Islanders.

"We are hungry to play our best rugby," Cheika said.

"We want to do two things, obviously we want to do our best to win the tournament but we also want to show young people in Australia who are watching how beautiful rugby can be and to play rugby in the future.

"For the young people back home as well it's a big event so the better we play the two goals can be achieved."