Stephen Larkham: Michael Hooper’s a tough man to replace for Wallabies

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Michael Hooper has been one of Australia's standout players in the World Cup.

Australia assistant coach Stephen Larkham accepts that it will be hard to replace banned flanker Michael Hooper in Saturday’s World Cup Pool A decider against Wales.

Hooper must sit out the game after collecting a one-match suspension following his citing for a dangerous charge on England full-back Mike Brown at Twickenham three days ago.

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Speaking before Hooper’s punishment was imposed, Larkham said: “We have a couple of excellent players waiting for their chance.

“Ben McCalman and Sean McMahon have both played really well in the tournament.

“In saying that, Michael has been tremendous so far, and in fact the games before the tournament he was the stand-out as well. It is hard to replace someone like that, but the guys are certainly ready to go.

“McMahon and McCalman have put their hands up in this tournament. Sean could slot in at seven, or Ben can go to eight and (David) Pocock at seven.”

The incident happened just before half-time, but Hooper avoided any punishment apart from conceding a penalty. Australia went on to win the game 33-13, a result that knocked England out.

Hooper must now sit out the Wales encounter, but he will be available for next week’s quarter-final, when Australia are set to face Scotland or Japan if they win the group.

In a statement, World Rugby said: “With respect to the sanction, the judicial officer determined that the offence was low-end, which has an entry point of two weeks.

“However, taking into account mitigating factors including his early admission, good conduct during the hearing and good character and the absence of any off-field aggravating factors, the player was suspended for a period of one week.”

Apart from Hooper, Australia could also be without full-back Israel Folau for the Wales Test.

Folau suffered an ankle injury during the England game. The 26-year-old did not train on Monday and Australia’s coaching staff are monitoring him closely. If Folau misses out, then Kurtley Beale would appear in the No15 shirt.

Wing Rob Horne, meanwhile, is likely to miss the Wales match due to a shoulder injury that forced him off early against England, with Drew Mitchell or Joe Tomane his likely deputy.

Larkham added: “I think it is a really big test for us on Saturday. The experience they have in the second-row and their forward pack as a whole is something we definitely respect, and we are going to have to prove on the field that we can match them.”

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Andy Farrell denies reports of divide in England selection meetings

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Backing his boss: England backs coach Andy Farrell.

Andy Farrell insists Stuart Lancaster had the final say in England selection meetings in response to claims he was the dominant voice in picking the team.

The hosts have been knocked out of the World Cup following successive defeats by Wales and Australia and conclude their tournament with Saturday’s match against Uruguay in Manchester.

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Details have emerged of disquiet within the playing squad over the influence of Farrell in selection and tactics and the management’s determination to pick Sam Burgess despite his lack of union experience. Farrell, however, said Lancaster had the ultimate call in deciding whether a player was in or out.

“You might find it hard to believe but we agree on more things than we disagree with. It’s not even a disagreement because we are on the same page as each other,” Farrell said. “We have discussions. I can’t remember one incident where a coach would have been upset about something because we’re all united together.

“There’s been plenty of times when three of you are united and Lancaster makes the call and it’s completely different. It’s Stuart’s gig. We back him to the hilt. Ultimately we all work under Stuart’s umbrella and that umbrella is a brilliant place to work. There are perimeters within that, but as coaches we are unbelievably happy with how he runs things.”

Burgess’ commitment to the cause has never been in doubt, but his presence has been divisive with a feeling among members of the squad that it was Luther Burrell who should have been picked as the hard-running centre.

“We agree on more things than we disagree with” – Andy Farrell

“For people to think it was disruptive couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s unfair all the comments coming out about him. Obviously it’s a big story now,” Farrell said.

“He’s put a tremendous amount of effort in. He’s been selfless to the team in helping lead the boys and galvanising everyone together. He’s been priceless as far as I’m concerned.

“Yes we did fail but he came on against Fiji and played pretty well and almost changed the game with a few of the lads around.”

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All Blacks ready to step it up a level in final group game against Tonga

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Trick up his sleeve: Steve Hansen.

Steve Hansen says the All Blacks are holding back on their ‘A game’ and will roll out the complete package in the knockout stages of the World Cup.

The holders were never expected to be truly threatened in a relatively lightweight Pool C and accordingly wrapped up wins over Argentina – the only team to test them in a match they won 26-16 – Namibia and Georgia to qualify for the last eight with a game to spare.

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But although never in danger of losing, New Zealand never looked convincing, which according to coach Hansen was to be expected.

Winning by cricket scores doesn’t help, he argued, and the All Blacks were testing themselves under various scenarios to prepare for the sudden-death matches ahead.

“Clearly we’re keeping some things up our sleeve, which we think is the sensible thing,” Hansen said. “As we get closer to the quarter-final and sudden death we’ll bring our whole game.”

If Hansen is right, it doesn’t get any closer to the quarter-final than Friday’s last pool match, which means Tonga are in for a torrid time.  Scrum-half Aaron Smith said he was “pretty disappointed” with New Zealand’s last match, a 43-10 win over Georgia.

“It was a really big game for us and we’re just building,” Smith explained. “It was a tough watch but an exciting watch too because you could see we are getting close to achieving what we wanted to.

“We trained it all week. We still wanted to do what we planned on the field and as a player and part of that game I was just a little gutted we couldn’t execute it as well.

“I think for that first 20 or 30 minutes it was really working and then we weren’t able to adjust to the way they changed it.”

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