His so-called ‘Pooper’ combination of Michael Hooper and David Pocock shot the lights out as they toiled in closer tandem for the first time this season. Working side by side in attack and defence, they were rarely more than a few metres from the action.
Man of the match Hooper played a more traditional open-side flanker role and chased the ball like a greyhound after the lure. There was no ‘sea-gulling’ in the wider channels. His limited carries were close to the ruck and although progress was restricted, he always attracted at least two defenders.
It was suggested Pocock had a quiet game. Don’t you believe it! The champion backrower had nearly sixty ruck involvements in a remarkable display of speed, endurance and power. His late classic tackle on Steven Kitshoff as he charged for the goal-line, was a make or break situation.
The astonishing work-rate of the pair set a benchmark for teammates and effectively nullified the physical threats of opposites Francois Louw and Oupa Mohoje who were both subbed inside 50 minutes.
Argentina’s biggest challenge
Australia’s lineout options may be compromised by ‘Operation Pooper’ but the upside of playing the twin terriers shapes as Argentina’s largest stumbling block in Perth this weekend.
Outside England, the Argentine Pumas have been the biggest improver over the past twelve months. They should have won both recent games against South Africa and their impressively combative effort against the All Blacks last weekend has put the Wallabies on notice.
To counter ‘Pooper’, the Pumas have two young athletic backrowers in Pablo Matera and Facundo Isa. Both have been in outstanding form, Isa as a sensational ball runner and Matera through his constructive physical presence at the breakdown.
They become a catalyst for Argentina’s breakneck approach which made significant inroads up the middle of the field against NZ.
Massive defensive effort required
Defence shapes as the foundation for an Aussie victory at NIB Stadium and one suspects coach Cheika will be demanding a multiple ‘Pooper’ approach from his forwards to spoil Argentina’s party. The Wallabies produced their best defensive effort of the season in Brisbane but will need to go further.
What a brilliant stage for new boys Dane Haylett-Petty and Adam Coleman on their home patch. Both have been on steep learning curves opposing the three top ranked teams in world rugby.
Dane will thrive under new Wallaby skills coach Michael Byrne who is focused on improving passing skills and running lines. Haylett-Petty is fearless under the high ball and his increased confidence has been unmistakable.
‘Tassie Devil’ Coleman has provided a new level of athleticism and aggression but is the first to admit his lineout skills are a work in progress. Importantly though, he is really backing himself and rapidly finding his feet at this level. Gotta love his robust defence and ball carrying.
Will Cheika have the last laugh?
Six straight test losses unsurprisingly attracted a chorus of Wallaby detractors and a lot of the criticism was warranted. But the most pleasing aspect of last Saturday’s win over the Boks was the unerring commitment and belief in the game plan despite the early scoreboard calamity.
Cheika has also been criticized for recalling his experienced French foreign legion of players. As further justification, those critics will point to the injury-driven demise of Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper who were both slightly shy of test match fitness.
On the other hand, how encouraging has the form been of old firm Will Genia and Quade Cooper in the last two outings? The return to Suncorp was ideal and they ran the show superbly.
Cooper’s flat left to right passing gave the backs a new dimension, as did his chemistry with Samu Kerevi and his subtle tactical kicking.
His old pace has returned and hopefully he will start to take some of those gaps he previously ignored.
Bordeaux Begle’s Sekope Kepu started the campaign slowly but anchored a dominant Wallaby scrum against the Boks. He is now almost back to where he was at the end of the Rugby World Cup, getting selected in ‘teams of the tournament’.
The remaining legionnaire, Toulon’s Drew Mitchell, has been hampered by injury but his belated appearance at Suncorp only emphasized the coach’s faith and Drew’s contribution behind the scenes. The flying winger is off and running and now ready for a significant on-field contribution.
‘Poopers everywhere!’ this weekend
Cheika’s cocktail of overseas based players and exciting newcomers is finally starting to fizz. More bubbles can be added with the selection of debutants Tom Robertson at prop and wrecking ball Lopeti Timani who is potentially the most destructive ball running no.8 in the country.
The frenetic pace and skill of the All Blacks has changed the way test rugby is played and the rest of the world is currently trying to adapt and catch-up.
Indications are the Wallabies are back on track but they will need NZ’s killer instinct to subdue the passionate Pumas this weekend. The battlecry must be “Poopers everywhere!” in defence with all hands on deck at fever pitch for eighty minutes. Anything less is unacceptable.
Gordon Bray will be joined by Wallaby greats Matt Burke and Nathan Sharpe and hosts Matt White and Scott Mackinnon for TEN’S live telecast from 7.30pm also on Ten HD and tenplay