Rugby World Cup 2019: Michael Hooper, Marika Koroibete and other Wallaby players to watch out for

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With Australia’s first match in the Rugby World Cup just four weeks away, we take a look at star players who will be key to their Webb Ellis trophy prospects in Japan.

DAVID POCOCK (31)

Position: No8

The Waratahs icon is only just back from a calf injury, but looks primed to take the No8 shirt in Japan.

The 31-year-old has been instrumental for his country over the years with his strong tackling, solid carrying and smoking footwork all serious threats.

A high-class operator at the breakdown, Pocock will be looking to shine in what is likely to be his World Cup swansong.

MICHAEL HOOPER (27)

Position: Flanker

One of the best players in the Southern Hemisphere, Hooper could step into any team with little fuss.

It’s hard to believe he’s still only 27 – and his ability to win his own ball and produce magic with every touch has seen him evolve into one of the game’s most-influential figures.

If the Aussies go well, expect the Waratahs man to light up their campaign.

FRONT ROW

The Wallabies scrum was a massive strength at times during the Rugby Championship and will be key against the likes of Wales and Georgia in the World Cup.

Scott Sio and Alan Alaalatoa were major parts of the Wallabies’ granite-like defence in Perth two weeks ago, with the latter in particular, shining with his strong carries.

That’s not to forget Taniela Tupou, Sekope Kepu and hookers Tolu Latu, Folau Fainga’a, Tatafu Polota-Nau, all of whom will be battling to play starring roles if the Wallabies are to push on and reach the last eight.

SAMU KEREVI (25)

Position: Centre

Fijian-born Kerevi is part of a dominant Wallabies back-line that can attack from any position.

The 25-year-old can orchestrate the game from first centre and, with Reece Hodge and James O’Connor likely to be outside him, can upset the tempo of any opposition if presented with quality balls.

Solid in the tackle and always a threat going forward, the Queensland Reds man will be a major force for Cheika’s side.

MARIKA KOROIBETE (27)

Position: Winger

One of the stand-out stars in the win over the All Blacks, Koroibete has been a colossus for the Wallabies.

With eight tries in 23 appearances, the Melbourne Rebels winger is a totemic presence who has a knack for catching opposition attackers behind the gain line and, coupled with his strong offloading ability, is a superb asset to any starting line-up.

The former NRL star also has the edge in the physical and defensive battle against his rivals.

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Wales coach Warren Gatland plays down move to number one ranking

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Warren Gatland says Wales will not get carried away after replacing New Zealand as World Rugby’s top-ranked nation.

Wales’ 13-6 World Cup warm-up victory over England in Cardiff saw them end the All Blacks’ 10-year unbroken rankings reign.

And their debut rise to the summit comes just 34 days before the World Cup kicks off in Japan.

But Wales head coach Gatland said: “It’s just a number, isn’t it.

“It is a nice accolade to have, but it is all about the next few months and backing that up by performing well in the World Cup, and we’ve a couple of games against Ireland to go as well.

“It’s nice for a day, but we won’t be shouting from the rooftops about it. We have got to keep things in perspective.

“Lots of journalists will be out there saying ‘this is a joke’ – probably Kiwi journalists more than anything! It’s just a number.

“We are not making a big fuss of it. We will keep it in our pocket and go from week to week.”

Fly-half Dan Biggar starred with an accomplished all-round display, converting wing George North’s 38th Wales try and kicking a penalty.

The performance answered recent criticism from former international JJ Williams, who claimed Wales would not win a World Cup with Biggar at 10.

“He (Biggar) was really good today,” Gatland added.

“I don’t know about that former Welsh player. Was he really old? Played in the 70s probably? Did he play over 50-odd years ago? Probably. That does explain a few things.”

England were slicker and more cohesive after the break, but Wales restricted them to a couple of George Ford penalties before a late Leigh Halfpenny penalty sealed victory.

Gatland said: “The players drove a lot this week, and you could tell they were on Test-match edge today.

“We showed some fantastic character and big cojones out there. That’s what these boys are about, they wear this jersey with pride.”

Gatland confirmed flanker James Davies suffered a head knock that forced him off midway through the first half, while Jake Ball and Aaron Wainwright had dead legs. Biggar had a stinger to his shoulder and a tight groin, and Gareth Davies a knock to his hip.

Full-back Liam Williams, meanwhile, experienced hamstring tightness during the warm-up and was withdrawn and replaced by Halfpenny.

“There is nothing serious as far as I am concerned at this stage, and all players will be medically assessed in the morning to see where we are at before we fly out (to a training camp in Turkey),” Gatland added.

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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All Blacks crush the Wallabies to retain Bledisloe Cup

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New Zealand bounced back from their record Test defeat to thrash Australia 36-0 in Auckland.

Australia had beaten New Zealand 47-26 in Perth seven days earlier, the heaviest defeat in the All Blacks’ 583-Test history.

But it was a different story at Eden Park as outside-half Richie Mo’unga scored 14 points and New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup.

Mo’unga was among the All Blacks’ five try-scorers but, with the World Cup opener against South Africa just five weeks away, provided cause for concern when he suffered a heavy tackle from Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and left the action nursing his right shoulder.

Mo’unga had opened the scoring with a fourth-minute penalty before opposite number Christian Lealiifano missed two kicks, the first one striking an upright.

Lealiifano’s profligacy was to prove costly when Reece Hodge spilt a Kurtley Beale pass after 29 minutes and Mo’unga produced a smart pick up to burst over from 60 metres.

New Zealand went further ahead three minutes later as Beauden Barrett instigated a devastating counter-attack.

George Bridge was on hand to break between two defenders and freed Aaron Smith for his 17th Test try, with Mo’unga adding the extras again.

The All Blacks were reduced to 14 men when Dane Coles grabbed scrum-half Nic White around the neck and threw him to the ground judo-style.

But New Zealand still dominated – their seven-man scrum overpowered Australia’s eight-strong pack – and Sonny Bill Williams barrelled over six minutes after the restart.

Sevu Reece extended the lead with his first Test try, winning the race to his own kick for Barrett to convert before fellow winger Bridge wrapped up an emphatic win in the closing stages.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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