Short-term pain, long-term gain for Wallabies

Date published: October 7 2016

The Wallabies side that will run out at Twickenham to face Argentina is markedly different from when they last took to the field in London for the Rugby World Cup final.

Michael Cheika’s on-going renovation of the Australia squad hasn’t been an easy job to carry out in the middle of a three-Test series with England swiftly followed by the Rugby Championship.

Australia have won two games this year, and lost five. That’s the bones of a year in transition, when top players have been unavailable and new faces have needed to be introduced at a quick rate.

“It is pretty clear we are going through a bit of a generational change. From that side that played in the final at Twickenham there are nine different players in the starting team,” Cheika explained at the team’s hotel on Thursday.

“Our challenge in Australian rugby is to build more depth, and we’re going to do that in challenging conditions when there are lots of different sports competing for young players. We did not have a great Super Rugby season either.

“We need to challenge ourselves to build the depth of our game and not cry about losing players overseas. Don’t whinge about it, get on and do something.”

Cheika might not want to use it as an excuse, which is admirable, but hitting that balance between nurturing the stars of the future combined with winning Tests is a thin tightrope – just ask Allister Coetzee – made even harder in Australia by the competition from Rugby League and the AFL.

Having to carry out extensive renovations is uncharted territory for Cheika, but his passion for the programme is fierce. And that belief will need to run from the top down, from coaches to the rookies, for it to be a success.

“This is a programme for that we believe by blooding the new guys now, in one/two/three years they will have good experience,” he went on to say.

“Yeah we’ll get a bit of pain right now, and I will always take responsibility for that. Instead of whinging about not having enough depth, we want to make depth. Not give away caps willy-nilly either, but give them to people who earn it.

“No one cares about second. Winners are the ones that count. The goal is to go into everything you do to win, and build that habit. For us it’s with a new generation of players.

“It is a great experience for me, I have never had to do it. In a club environment you do it by buying or selling, and this is really new – where the age balances, performances levels, where the players are right now.”

Part of that ethos is why Cheika has not been afraid to drop players like James Slipper on Rob Simmons for Saturday, willing to see Tom Robertson can do when required at loosehead instead of his usual tighthead slot.

The Australia head coach believed that despite missing out on three Tests wins in a row in Pretoria last weekend, the Wallabies in fact performed well, just as they have done often this year without getting the result to show for it. And the way his squad have stuck together throughout an up and down few weeks has been something to smile about.

“Even though we lost against South Africa I thought it was our best performance of the year,” Cheika stated.

“I have always been of the mindset that I really believe in what I do. I really believe this is the way to go.

“The three games against England and against South Africa, were games we should have won even with a changing team. We were outplayed in the two games against New Zealand, I put my hand up, and we have to get better against that opponent.

“Blooding new players isn’t an excuse for losing games, we had many opportunities to go and finish the game off. Against England there were two games where we scored more tries, and lost.

“We are getting there. One thing that has been excellent is our team has been solid. We have had a lot of heat thrown our way but stayed at it and I’m proud of the lads for that.”

by Ben Coles