New Zealand great Jonah Lomu fears David Pocock and Michael Hooper will give Australia a critical edge at the breakdown in Saturday’s World Cup final.
Pocock has established himself as the sport’s most influential player after plundering 14 turnovers in the competition, five more than his closest rival and six more than the All Blacks’ Kieran Read.
The number eight has amassed the total despite missing the victories over Wales and Scotland with a calf problem, resulting in his average being elevated to three steals in each match.
Australia’s dominance of the breakdown has been founded on the combination of Pocock and Hooper, who are both primarily opensides, and Lomu knows that New Zealand’s ability to nullify the arch-poachers will be key to the outcome at Twickenham.
“If there’s any team who can give New Zealand a run for their money then it’s Australia because they’re the only team to have beaten them this year,” Lomu said. “The difference at the moment is that New Zealand only have Richie McCaw in their back row, while Australia have Hooper and Pocock working together.
“That gives them a different dimension at the breakdown.
“Their speed into the breakdown will give the All Blacks a real headache. It will be interesting to see how they deal with that.
“The backs will get praise for scoring tries, but matches are won up front and the breakdown will be what makes the difference.
“Australia playing two opensides in Pocock and Hooper is a real threat to the All Blacks.”
However, veteran All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu remains adamant that New Zealand cannot plot a path to glory if they spend too much time trying to single out one opponent for special treatment.
“We understand he’s a good player, but there are so many parts of the game that if we concentrate on one we’ll end up not doing anything else,” said Mealamu.
“We understand he’s a big part of them but there’s plenty of strings to their bow that are just as important that we need to make sure we account for.
“It doesn’t get any easier for us.”
Pocock suffered two black eyes and a suspected broken nose in Australia’s 29-15 semi-final victory over Argentina last weekend.
The 27-year-old halted the Pumas’ charge at almost every turn; despite a hat-trick for Adam Ashley-Cooper, without Pocock’s influence the match could have unfolded very differently.
New Zealand know they must stop the in-form possession poacher, but have vowed not to stray from their customary approach.
The All Blacks would make history as the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Cup with victory on Saturday, while either winner will claim a record third World Cup triumph.
Out-half Dan Carter will join Mealamu, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Richie McCaw in retiring from Test rugby after Saturday’s showpiece clash.
McCaw will go down as the game’s greatest captain if he can lead the All Blacks to successive World Cup wins, while Carter is still itching to feature in his first global final.
A groin injury wrecked Carter’s 2011 tournament, with Stephen Donald drafted in from a fishing trip to steer New Zealand to 8-7 victory over France in the final.
Now the 33-year-old has the chance to sign off from a glittering Test career in style, and Mealamu believes he is ready to deliver.
“The way he’s playing now is testament to how hard he’s worked to get back,” said Mealamu.
“He’s enjoying his rugby, and when he’s in that mindset he plays to that level.
“It’s been great to see him just enjoy being a part of this, and being back to the form that we know and expect of him.
“We’re excited as he is to see him in great form.”
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