The return of David Pocock and Israel Folau will make the Wallabies a completely different proposition in Sunday’s World Cup semi-final, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Their availability after a week of waiting is most probably a game-changing boost for Australia, and it’s no wonder the duo were given every opportunity to prove their fitness. The loss of Scott Sio is significant, but it pales in comparison to the importance of Pocock and Folau being available.
To digress for a moment. When looking past all the Craig Joubert bashing, it’s pretty clear that while the Wallabies were extremely fortunate to edge past Scotland in last weekend’s quarter-final, they also weren’t entirely undeserving of victory.
When you score five tries in a high-pressure knockout match, nine times out of 10 you’re going to emerge on the winning side. Let’s also not forget that Bernard Foley left his kicking boots at home, while the Aussies also conceded one try to a charge-down and another to an intercept.
Nevertheless, they were a minute away from an embarrassing exit at this World Cup, and there’s no doubt it will have served as a major wake-up call.
Coach Michael Cheika has attempted to accept responsibility, suggesting he’d allowed the side to rest on its laurels after important victories over England and Wales. There would have been no such complacency this week. Once bitten, twice shy.
It was also abundantly clear that the Wallabies missed the presence of Pocock, a peerless pilferer of possession at the breakdown.
It’s his prominence and ability to slow down opposition ball that has been so integral to the Wallabies’ cause during the pool phase, and with workmanlike Ben McCalman coming in as his replacement last Sunday, the back row balance was disrupted.
At fullback, Kurtley Beale was undoubtedly one of the Wallabies’ best performers in Cardiff, but the presence of a player like Folau changes the dynamics of the Wallabies’ backline.
We’re still waiting for the moment when Folau really sets the World Cup alight, but it could well be this Sunday. The dynamic fullback has been troubled by an ankle injury, but by all accounts he’s now raring to go, and his game-breaking ability will provide the Aussies with a massive boost.
On the other side of the pitch, the big question revolves around whether Argentina can produce another performance as impressive as last weekend's.
The Pumas’ display against Ireland probably exceeded their own expectations, with flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez and flying wing Juan Imhoff particularly daunting.
They were brutally efficient in virtually every department, though, and afterwards even Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admitted it was a performance deserving of immense respect: ‘Their combination of power and pace made it very difficult to win collisions either side of the ball,’ he commented.
This battle at the contact point is certainly going to be fascinating. It could well influence the impact Pocock is able to make, while if the Pumas fail to remain cohesive and disciplined on defence, Folau will make them pay.
With those two dangermen back in tow, the Wallabies must be favourites to book their place in the final, but they’d underestimate the plucky Pumas at their peril.
POCOCK’S STATS THAT MATTER
32 – Tackles made at this World Cup
13 – Carries over gainline
10 – Turnovers won
FOLAU’S STATS THAT MATTER
204 – Metres made
16 – Carries over gainline
13 – Defenders beaten
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images