Legend says Wallabies 'not far off' world's best

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Australia is well-placed to compete with the world's best nations at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, provided coach Michael Cheika can resolve some lingering selection issues during the Spring Tour. 

That's the view of Wallabies legend Tim Horan, who identified the back row as the main areas where the Wallabies could test some different combinations during the matches against Wales, Italy and England. 

"We’ve got to work out whether the Michael Hooper-David Pocock combination has more positives than negatives in regards to does it detract from our line out?" Horan said. "Does it detract from our ball-carrying?"

"Or, because the game has opened up a bit in the past 12-18 months, are there more positives in having those two on the field."

Horan, who became one of Australia's greatest attacking players over a decorated 80-test career from 1989-2000, said one option could be to leave one of the star flankers on the bench in an effort to develop variation and depth in what has been a troublesome position for Cheika's outfit. 

"It’s really difficult because David Pocock is obviously a wonderful player. He’s either man of the match or second best on the field most times. But the challenge for us is that we’re not winning all of our line-out ball.

"Im fifty-fifty on it. Maybe David Pocock starts on the bench in one test and you put a different back row combination on, just to tinker with the back row and see how the line-out functions.

While both Pocock and Hooper have been selected to start in the match against Wales at the Millenium Stadium, Horan identified the former as one in the pair who could potentially make way at some point over the tour. 

"Wouldn’t it be a shame to sacrifice David Pocock on the bench?" Horan said. "But it just might show us what the other options are if David’s injured or something else happens."

The Wallabies have slipped to seventh in the world rankings ahead of their Spring Tour opener against a Wales side that has climbed to third on the back of six straight wins.

While Australia has enjoyed a prolonged run of success against the Welsh - amassing a 13-game winning streak dating back to 2013 - Horan believes the game will be decided on which team can stay disciplined and control the ball the best.

"I’m quite proud of how this team’s performed," he said. "I don’t think we’re that far off. The scoreline from different test matches this year probably shows that not to be right, but I don’t think we’re that far off.

"They’re [the Wallabies] a very good squad and a very skilled squad. They’re certainly improving their understanding of how to play the game at this really high-paced level. I thought our fitness was off in the June series against Ireland. I didn’t think we understood a lot of how the game’s changed as well in the fitness level. That’s really picked up in the back end of the season, our fitness and understanding of how much of a high-paced game it is.

"Probably the top eight teams in the world now can beat anyone on any given day. In most test matches now there’s two or three turnovers that really hurt one team. In the game of rugby it’s hard to pull that back now given the skill level and the pace of the match."

Far from being a chance to experiment too much with selections, Horan outlined the importance of finishing a tough year on a winning note. 

"Form Michael Cheika's point of view and also Michael Hooper's, they need some wins to get some confidence back. When you're a year out from a World Cup, you've got to try and start to really get some combinations going."