David Pocock comes through mixed final Wallabies hit-out

SYDNEY -- David Pocock got through a solid 58 minutes as the Wallabies wrapped up their preparations for the Rugby World Cup with a less-than-convincing 19-point victory over Samoa at Bankwest Stadium.

But it was otherwise a mixed final hit-out for Australia before they head for Japan, after Samoa roared into life after halftime to leave the result in the balance inside the final quarter.

When Pocock departed the Wallabies were leading 22-8. But he could have done little to stop the try that came shortly after he headed for the bench, as Samoa cut through the heart of Australia's defence for Dwayne Polataivao to complete his double.

Samoa's replacement scrum-half had earlier been the beneficiary of a huge scrum from his forward pack that allowed No. 8 Afaesetti Amosa to scoot down the blindside and draw Marika Koroibete for Polataivao to cross untouched. The Wallabies front-row, at that point, had copped a hammering.

Trailing by just seven points with 15 minutes to play, the large Samoan contingent in the stands came to life and they were rewarded with a series of thumping hits from their heroes in blue.

But there would be no repeat of the 2011 upset a few kilometres east at ANZ Stadium as Dane Haylett-Petty finished off the Wallabies' best passage of play for the second half by slipping his defender to touch down with nine minutes to play.

A post-siren Matt Toomua try took the Wallabies out to a flattering 34-15 triumph they will want to move on quickly from, a second-half in which they invited Samoa back into the contest, in particular.

"The first half was good, the second half we just didn't build enough," Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said. "We built in the first half, just kept staying at it; did the right things.

"We did the same things in the second half but less consistently; I think we're trying to look for more when we didn't really need to look for more. We just needed to keep doing what we were doing and building a score.

"But I think off the back of the two weeks we've had, a lot of work's gone in there, yeah I think it was a good hit-out for us, a really good one."

Only hours after New Zealand had obliterated Tonga 92-7 in Hamilton, and England and Scotland had recorded comfortable 37- and 27-point triumphs over Italy and Georgia respectively overnight, the Wallabies' wider squad hardly delivered a message that the team is humming and has options aplenty, despite what coach Michael Cheika said after fulltime.

It is true that they were without skipper Michael Hooper, and first-choice starters Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold, Isi Naisarsani and Kurtley Beale, but the stand-in personnel otherwise failed to sway any potential selection calls for the Wallabies' World Cup opener against Fiji in Sapporo in a fortnight's time.

The Wallabies did build a comfortable 22-3 halftime lead via four first-half five-pointers - only one of which was converted by Bernard Foley - with Marika Koroibete at the heart of much of what they did well.

The winger's 16th-minute try easily the moment of the match as he turned four Samoan defenders inside out on a brilliant 40-metre run to the line. Koroibete went on to finish with a match-high 125 metres and eight beaten defenders to go with his five-pointer, a return which earned him the man-of-the-match award.

Toomua was perhaps the only fringe player to truly make the most of his start as he appeared accomplished at No. 12; he is, however, virtually no chance of dislodging the in-form Samu Kerevi from inside centre. Toomua could however be a smoky for the No. 10 jersey with Christian Leali'ifano holding a tenuous grip on it for now, and Bernard Foley failing to nail his opportunity on Saturday night.

The biggest positive for Australia was clearly the 58 minutes that Pocock got through after not playing for almost six months.

While the champion No. 7 failed to really get on the ball in the fashion that has been the hallmark of his career, he showed no signs of sluggishness and was effective in the few ball-handling opportunities that did come his way.

The pick of those was an overthrown lineout which he dutifully scooped up and rumbled towards the line, Pocock then staying alive two phases later as he threw the final pass for Adam Coleman to grab the game's opening try on eight minutes.

"I loved it, yeah, it was great to be back out there," Pocock said. "Physical, there'll be some sore bodies tomorrow, but enjoyable; a really good contest.

"It's always good to get the first one out of the way, training's been pretty tough so I think it translates pretty well. We've been trying to be pretty game specific with our training and working with Lukhan [Salakaia-Loto] and [Jack Dempsey], I thought we worked fairly well together and we'll keep working on that combination.

Adam Ashley-Cooper and Salakaia-Loto crossed for the Wallabies other two first-half tries, with Haylett-Petty and Toomua ensuring the thought of Samoa repeating their historic triumph in 2011 was admonished just as it seemed it a chance inside the closing 15 minutes.

The Pacific Islanders deserved plenty of credit, too, for the fashion in which they had fought their way back into the contest. With that the Samoans have proven they will be anything but pushovers for the likes of Ireland, Scotland and tournament hosts Japan over the next five weeks.

Australia will be better for the physical hit-out, too, knowing that a fired-up Fiji possess a similar skill-set to their Pacific neighbours and are also armed with a vastly-improved scrum of their own.

Cheika's biggest decision between now and then will be whether to revive the Michael Hooper-David Pocock back-row combination or retain Salakaia-Loto alongside his skipper and No. 8 Isi Naisarani.

After so much doubt as to whether Pocock would actually make the World Cup given his long battle with a calf injury, it's a selection decision that will now at least be contemplated over the next 14 days.

That reality and an otherwise clean bill of health is all an inconsistent Australia can really take out of Saturday night. Their attention will turn quickly to Sapporo, and making a similarly confident start to that in Cardiff four years ago.