Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) – Australia coach Michael Cheika says he is looking forward to the return of David Pocock to spur the Wallabies to victory over Six Nations champions Ireland in Brisbane on Saturday.
The influential Pocock — playing his first international since taking a rugby sabbatical last year — will play in the unfamiliar position of blindside flanker, with skipper Michael Hooper preferred at openside.
The second-ranked Irish are on the crest of a wave, having won their last 12 internationals and this year’s Six Nations tournament, but have not won in Australia since 1979.
While Cheika, who coached Irish province Leinster to their first-ever European Cup in 2009, rates this as the best Irish side of all time, he says the Wallabies can cause an upset.
“I believe we can win. I can see a good young generation coming through here in Australia,” Cheika said Friday.
“It’s an opportunity to build a new look for the game here and make the Wallabies what they talk about the game in Australia, rather than some of the other stuff that’s going on.”
Cheika said Pocock’s leadership was invaluable but warned that breakdown turnovers would be at a premium against the well-organised Irish.
“We all talk about Poey’s (Pocock’s) on the ground work but that’s going to be very hard against Ireland,” he said.
“They commit strongly to the attacking ruck, they’ve got a lot of numbers there and they’re very good at recycling.”
Cheika praised Ireland for their dramatic Six Nations win against France and said Pocock would be challenged by the visitors.
“It’s not going to be easy to work that type of magic that he normally does but he’s got a lot more facets to his game.”
“He can distribute ball, he’s a good carrier, he’s a great defender and has got unbelievable work ethic which is really important.”
Hooper, who is also a premier ball scavenger, said Ireland’s attacking ruck was notoriously tough to crack but he backed Pocock to make his mark.
“As far as his on-field stuff, it speaks for itself in how he can change a game and get a turnover to change momentum,” Hooper told reporters on Friday.
“And then the experience on the field allows the game managers and myself to lean on someone for a good voice there to get the team on the right path.”
Hooper said the Wallabies were aiming to attack Ireland through their star-studded backs — Will Genia, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau.
“We’d be silly not to run the ball with some of the strike power we’ve got,” Hooper said.
“We’ve got a really fit team, forwards who want to work and can get over the advantage line with a mobile back row.”
The Wallabies were forced into a late change Friday, with prop Tom Robertson replacing reserve forward Allan Alaalatoa, who injured an ankle in Thursday’s training.