The Australian number eight will be the key man on Saturday, and England will have to limit his influence to stand a chance of winning
It comes as no surprise but Michael Cheika confirmed on Thursday that England will face the world’s leading breakdown duo in their do-or-die clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
David Pocock stands alone as the most disruptive force at the breakdown in the global game, while Michael Hooper is an exceptional foil alongside him.
With Pocock having proven that he can play at number eight at Test level, and no top class alternatives, Cheika has made the sensible decision to pair the two up against the host nation as he did in the Wallabies’ opener against Fiji.
Stuart Lancaster’s side are under huge pressure, knowing that a defeat would effectively end their tournament, but Australia are not in an entirely dissimilar position.
Having missed out on a bonus point against Fiji, they could find themselves five points behind Wales heading into Saturday’s clash, depending on the result in Cardiff when the Welsh take on Fiji.
That would mean that at the very least Australia would need a bonus point against England, or otherwise face Wales knowing that only maximum points will see them into the quarter-finals.
The easiest way to avoid any mathematical calculations will be to beat England, and in Pocock and Hooper, they have the men to do it.
After struggling at the breakdown once again in the loss to Wales, the questions over the absence of Steffon Armitage have surfaced once more for England.
Chris Robshaw, under pressure again following the late collapse against Wales, will face an entirely new challenge in trying to deal with Pocock, who hasn’t played against England in five years.
England have enjoyed some success against supposedly superior breakdown operators in the past, notably in a World Cup quarter-final back in 2007, as well as more recently when they have been able to shut down Hooper in November Tests.
However Pocock is another challenge entirely, and if Romain Poite allows a fair contest at the breakdown, England will need to be much sharper than they have been in the tournament to date.
Elsewhere Australia have gone for the tried and tested, with Bernard Foley rightly preferred to Quade Cooper at fly-half, while Will Genia continues at scrum-half.
The Wallabies’ improved scrummaging will be key, following the great debate over the legality of Joe Marler’s angles, any early advantage could be huge.
But in the end it will almost certainly come down to England’s ability to shut down Pocock and win the odd turnover of their own.
If they can’t, England will almost certainly become the first host nation to miss out on the quarter-finals in a World Cup.
Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Scott Sio, Stephen Moore (c), Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, David Pocock.