David Pocock believes Australian rugby looks past size when it comes to back-row forwards thanks to pioneers Phil Waugh and George Smith.
Australia have paired double breakdown threat Pocock and Michael Hooper for tomorrow’s make-or-break World Cup showdown with England at Twickenham.
While the Wallabies boast two natural foraging openside flankers, England have none in their squad, failing to produce a top-class breakdown specialist since Neil Back starred in the 2003 World Cup triumph.
English clubs and the system therein are perceived to favour size and power over contact-area acumen, but Pocock conceded Australia now view things differently.
“I think my generation and generations to come of players in Australia owe a big debt to Phil Waugh and George Smith,” said Pocock.
“I think they really broke the mould in that regard. I think they really proved just how successful a short back-rower can be. Compared to most of the forwards I would say I’m small, yes.” At 6ft foot – and even that at a stretch – Pocock is not afraid to admit he cuts a relatively diminutive figure in a Test arena.
The 27-year-old has now found a way to combine his ball-winning skills with those of back-row colleague Hooper, and the two will fight to stymie England’s attacking impetus at every turn on Saturday night.
Former Wallabies flankers Waugh and Smith assumed Back’s mantle after the Leicester grafter retired and Australia have flourished in that area.
Lose on Saturday and England could well be dumped out of the World Cup at the first hurdle and therefore become the worst-performing host nation in tournament history.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster has come under fire since England’s 28-25 defeat to Wales, while captain Chris Robshaw has long since learned to deal with the claims that he is not a natural seven.
Pocock and Hooper will start in tandem for just the third time in Wallabies colours, but already both feel comfortable with their highly effective double act.
“It’s been a bit different but something we worked really hard on in the US in the build-up to the World Cup, we had a couple of weeks there,” said Pocock of his partnership with Hooper.
“We’re trying to get to the point where we’re all able to play our roles in the system but also interchange a bit, so initially it was strange but I’m really enjoying it now.
“My view is you’re playing your number to get out there on the field.” England believe they can boss Australia around in the pack this weekend, just as in times past. Pocock’s back-row partner Hooper reacted to England’s verbal muscle-flexing by vowing the Wallabies will leave their talking for the pitch.
“I think the great thing is we get 80 minutes to play on the weekend,” said Hooper.
“We’re sick of training each other, we’ve been doing that for months now.
“We go against each other every day in training, so when you get your hands on another team it’s a good thing and you can do it together.
“And the belief in the group leaves us really keen to do that together.” Former Australia coach Bob Dwyer stoked the fires by claiming England loosehead Joe Marler cuts illegal scrummaging angles, but Wallabies boss Cheika refused to add weight to the accusations.
“Do I have to answer to him as well?” said Cheika.
“The only scrummaging technique we are interested in is our own.
“Bob’s got massive experience and is very well-respected, he’s won the World Cup so his opinions are always out there.
“But trying to pick a fault in anything in the opposition, and trying to complain about it or talk about it is a weakness on our part.
“Talking about the opponent or some flaw in the opponent from our point of view is disrespectful, and it leads to an excuse environment.”