Michael Cheika defiant despite Wallabies’ Eden Park thrashing

All Blacks’ Bledisloe Cup rout gives Steve Hansen food for thought ahead of Japan

Kieran Read lifts the Bledisloe Cup at Eden Park. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty

Kieran Read lifts the Bledisloe Cup at Eden Park. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty

 

Australia’s confidence looking to the World Cup had not been dented after a 36-0 thrashing at the hands of the All Blacks on Saturday, according to coach Michael Cheika, because there was still plenty of improvement left in the side.

The Wallabies had entered the clash at Eden Park more confident than they had been in years after a near perfect performance last week in Perth gave them a record 47-26 victory over the All Blacks.

Tellingly, the side had not celebrated like they had just won the World Cup final, instead showing a steely and quiet determination that had many pundits suggesting they might be able to regain the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.

Instead they met an All Blacks side determined to send a message to the rest of the rugby world they were not locked in a downward spiral as they begin their quest for a third successive Webb Ellis trophy in Japan in five weeks time.

While disappointed with the result, Cheika felt there was enough in the performance at Eden Park to suggest the side would get better ahead of their opener against Fiji on September 21st.

“Confidence won’t be dented,” Cheika said.

“Obviously disappointment is there, back home everyone was pumped for the game, they were excited after game one and we’re so disappointed that we weren’t able to give those people what they expected at the end of the day with the result and make them proud of us.”

Sevu Reece wins a foot race to touch down for the All Blacks in their heavy win over Australia. Photograph: David Rowland/EPA
Sevu Reece wins a foot race to touch down for the All Blacks in their heavy win over Australia. Photograph: David Rowland/EPA

Cheika’s side have been enigmatic since they made a surprising run to the World Cup final four years ago and have won just 19 of their 46 Tests since. Last year they won just four of their 13 tests.

They were hammered by a second-string Springboks side in their opening Test match this year then sneaked past the Pumas in Brisbane before they turned the rugby world on its head with their performance last week.

Cheika added that their games this year were a sign they were improving and building some momentum towards the global showpiece in Japan.

“We’ve improved a lot since 2018,” he said.

“We have to take this on the chin and make sure that if this is going to happen to you, you understand one or two key things that you should take forward, so we can be successful at the World Cup.

“If you’d ask me how I was feeling yesterday, or before the game, (I would say) I’m feeling really good about the improvements we’ve made.

“As terribly disappointed as I am about this game... I’ve got to put it into context, keep trying to build on those things and be resilient, don’t let this get you down.

“Yes, you’re going to be sad and disappointed, but suck it up and be ready for the next game and build into the World Cup, just how we’ve always planned to.”

Meanwhile the All Blacks’ impressive response at Eden Park has given Steve Hansen a welcome selection headache ahead of Japan.

After last week’s defeat in Perth Hansen had maintained his side was still building and referred to similar concerns the rugby mad public had ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

The 60-year-old, however, shook up his side for Saturday’s clash, dropping three underperforming senior players, which included wingers Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane.

Hansen’s gamble to throw George Bridge into his first start in his fourth Test and Sevu Reece into his second match to see if they could handle the white-hot pressure they can expect in a World Cup knockout match, paid off.

The pair were hungry for work, produced at least one try saving tackle each and scored a try each and Hansen felt that his risk had been rewarded.

“You don’t put people in your team if you don’t expect them to be able to play at that level,” Hansen said.

“We said during the week that we’ve seen enough of them to be able to cope with being an All Black, and what a wonderful opportunity to see if they can cope with the pressure of such a big occasion.

“They both played very well.”

Reece and Bridge were not the only players to put their hands up for World Cup selection, with lock Patrick Tuipulotu producing his best performance in the All Blacks jersey.

Outhalf Richie Mo’unga also took greater control of the game than he had in the two previous matches when he was paired with Beauden Barrett in the dual playmaker tactics, although he suffered a shoulder injury midway through the second half.

Hansen’s depth at outhalf is at its limit with the uncapped Josh Ioane the third-choice number 10, although he said initial thoughts were that Mo’unga should be fine for the World Cup.

“He’s not that bad, doc says he’ll be fine,” Hansen said.

“We’ll know more in the morning, but doc’s pretty comfortable with where he’s at.”

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