SYDNEY – Loose forward David Pocock returned to the Australia squad for next week’s test against New Zealand on Friday after missing most of the season through injury in a major boost for the Wallabies ahead of the World Cup.
The 31-year-old openside flanker has been sidelined by a calf injury since March 8 and was forced to skip almost the entire Super Rugby season as well as Australia’s first two tests of the Rugby Championship against South Africa and Argentina.
The Wallabies play their final match in the competition against New Zealand on Aug. 10 in Perth with a return Bledisloe Cup test against the world champions in Auckland the following week.
Pocock is hoping to play in a third World Cup in Japan later this year after being one of Australia’s best players in their run to the semi-finals in 2011 and the final four years later in England.
The team said Pocock and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, who has had a knee problem, would be continuing their rehabilitation with the squad but the return of one of Australia’s only genuinely world class players will be a huge fillip.
Promising Queensland back Jordan Petaia was the only uncapped player in the squad for the match at Perth stadium as coach Michael Cheika kept faith with the players who beat Argentina 16-10 in Brisbane last weekend.
“We were pleased to get the win against Argentina and we felt we built on some things from the previous game against South Africa and now we’ll be looking to build on that,” Cheika said in a news release.
“There’s strong belief in the group and it’s showing itself in how hard they’re training and how committed they are to doing whatever they need to do to achieve our goals.”
After four years of chopping and changing, Cheika has started to show some consistency in his squad selections as the World Cup approaches.
Will Genia, Nic White and Joe Powell were the three scrumhalves again selected with no room for the experienced Nick Phipps or Jake Gordon, who played his only test last year.
Cheika might be hoping that White can reprise his performance from the last time he faced the All Blacks in Australia in 2015, when he came off the bench to score 10 points in the last 12 minutes in a 27-19 victory in Sydney.
White got his first test start in four years in Australia’s Rugby Championship opener and although they went down 35-17 to South Africa in Johannesburg, the Wallabies could still win the tournament after the Springboks and the All Blacks drew last week.
The Wallabies squad:
Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Folau Fainga’a, Michael Hooper (captain), Luke Jones, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Rob Valetini, Liam Wright.
Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali’ifano, James O’Connor, Jordan Petaia, Joe Powell, Matt Toomua, Nic White.