Rugby World Cup
Cheika has certified Pocock as his main man for vital No.8 role
Greg Growden
October 9, 2015
Ruck 'n' Maul: Australia looking strong

The master performers know how to adapt.

There was enormous debate when Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen transformed Stephen Larkham from a Super Rugby full-back to a Test No.10. Yet it ended up being a masterstroke, with Larkham's poise as a playmaker critical in the Wallabies winning the 1999 World Cup title. Larkham now ranks among Australia's top five No. 10s of all time.

Larkham, as one of Michael Cheika's coaching assistants at this World Cup, now will be taking delight in observing how another mighty talent has taken to, and is relishing, a different role. While the selection of Sean McMahon to replace the suspended Michael Hooper at openside flanker for the Wales Test received the most publicity, as interesting is that through his team selection, Cheika has certified David Pocock as his main man for the vital No.8 position.

Pocock may not be your usual No.8 - often a tall, angular figure who is relied upon as being the team's third specialist lineout jumper - but he has this year handled the role with such aplomb that he appears destined to stay there for the rest of the tournament.

© Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

You can't argue with that, as Pocock's ability to steer the set-piece plus exceptional midfield and breakdown play has been instrumental in Australia's two most impressive victories of the season - defeating the All Blacks in Sydney and England at Twickenham.

Cheika could easily have played safe for the Wales Test. With Hooper out, he had the option of reverting to the traditional back-row set-up by picking long-time No. 8 Ben McCalman, who vied with McMahon for man of the match honours against Uruguay in Birmingham. This would have seen Pocock back to his customary openside flanker position with Scott Fardy remaining at blindside.

However, such is the faith in Pocock at No.8 that Cheika was able to rightfully reward McMahon for his efforts against United States in Chicago and Uruguay in Birmingham by slotting him straight into the No.7 spot.

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The Wallabies' No.8 position has been a vexing problem since Toutai Kefu departed for Japan in 2003. Several have tried to make the spot theirs, with Wycliff Palu the closest until inconsistencies and injuries interfered. But the Wallabies have often suffered because the No 8. has been short of the mark.

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Pocock looks easily the most assured of those recently tried there, and he could find himself in contention for the Player of the Tournament award if he continues producing over the next few weeks.

Very early days, but even England coach Stuart Lancaster admitted after the Twickenham loss that Pocock was the game's best at the breakdown - and that opinion hadn't been affected by his back-row move. Working in tandem with Hooper had even probably enhanced Pocock's power at the tackle area.

Kefu also showed that you did not have to be a monster to be a match-winning No.8. His dimensions are relatively similar to Pocock's. Kefu took the field at 191centimetres and 110 kilograms. Pocock is 187 centimetres tall and 115kgs. George Smith is another in the Pocock/Kefu mould who could handle the openside/No.8 variations.

While Kefu and Smith repeatedly inspired, Pocock has the extra skill of being an excellent leader. His covering skills and defiant defence during the second half against England, when the Wallabies momentarily lost their way, was critical in ensuring that Australia got their second wind, repelled the challenge, and finished their opposition off.

David Pocock of the Wallabies
David Pocock of the Wallabies© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Pocock's selection as vice-captain for the Wales Test also shows he is now a member of Cheika's inner sanctum.

Leaders are important at World Cup time. And the Wallabies can boast many. On Saturday, they will have four - Stephen Moore, Dean Mumm, Will Genia and Pocock - all accustomed to making big decisions. Adding to the mix are highly experienced players in Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau, who between them boast 208 Test appearances.

Australia's 1991 and 1999 Rugby World Cup-winning teams had similar considerable leadership numbers.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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