AAP Rugby

Cheika holding firm on ‘Pooper’ combo

By AAP Newswire

Michael Cheika insists the back-row combination of David Pocock and Mike Hooper isn't the reason for the Wallabies' recent line-out struggles.

The undersized duo will once again be dwarfed by giant Welsh back-rowers Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty on Sunday (0420 AEDT) in Cardiff.

In Yokohama against the All Blacks two weeks ago, the Wallabies struggled terribly in their set-piece play in the 37-20 defeat.

But Cheika maintains it had nothing to do with the presence of Pocock and Hooper and insists the pair remain two of the premier back-rowers in the world game.

"Any issue with the lineout has got nothing to do with having those two lads there together," Cheika said.

"Hooper is probably one of the best jumpers we've got in the team, he's fast, he's quite light, he's usually getting lifted by two tall guys.

"So that is definitely not an issue. He's more than capable of winning quality lineout ball with the players we have in that formation."

In an effort to try and improve the line-out Cheika has handed abrasive hooker Tolu Latu a first start since the Wallabies beat France in Paris nearly two years ago.

Latu is preferred to Folau Fainga'a and Tatafu Polota-Nau, who is named on the bench for the Principality Stadium clash as the Wallabies chase a 14th straight win over the Welsh.

"Some of the issues have been more around the quality of the ball, we're getting to lineouts," he said.

"Getting the competition right, we're up there, but not delivering the ball with quality to the backs so they can really launch and that's a big part of our game.

"That's probably the area we've worked on most, trying to get the quality of the ball into the halfback's hands and straight into our backs' hands where we want it off set-piece."

Latu's temper has seen him banished to the sin bin twice this season, including a spell on the sidelines for 10 minutes for slapping New Zealand hooker Codie Taylor in Japan.

The 25-year-old was baited throughout the game by the All Blacks and Cheika said the NSW Waratahs rake is fully aware the he must keep his cool in the heat of battle.

"This is an opportunity he's been given, so he knows, he doesn't even need to be told, he knows he needs to be better at that," Cheika said.

"He's a great footballer, we've seen that, and these are the battles players go through sometimes.

"We like the abrasiveness that he brings, he's very passionate about playing, and he's got to harness that in the right direction.

"I certainly don't want him to go soft, I want him to be right in there in the battle. But he's got to be in the battle by the rules, simple as that."