Newspaper article International New York Times

Australia Looks Set for World Cup Run ; but Defeat of All Blacks Should Not Be Overrated, Wallabies Coach Warns

Newspaper article International New York Times

Australia Looks Set for World Cup Run ; but Defeat of All Blacks Should Not Be Overrated, Wallabies Coach Warns

Article excerpt

Wallabies Coach Michael Cheika cautioned that beating New Zealand's powerful All Blacks once should not be blown out of proportion.

Any notion that Australia would not be a serious threat at the Rugby World Cup has been dispelled after the Wallabies underlined their credentials with a 27-19 victory against New Zealand.

Last October the Wallabies were in disarray, engulfed in the Kurtley Beale-Di Patston text saga that resulted in Beale's being fined, Patston's resigning as the Wallabies' business manager and Coach Ewen McKenzie's dramatic quitting immediately after a 29-28 loss to the All Blacks in Brisbane.

Ten months later, the Wallabies have won the Rugby Championship, having gone through the truncated tournament unbeaten with victories against South Africa, Argentina and the world champions, New Zealand.

Under Coach Michael Cheika Australia has become a more cohesive unit on and off the field and has worked hard to improve its team culture.

There has also been a more noticeable physical edge to the Wallabies' play, as was underlined in Sydney on Saturday when they took charge in the scrums (an area they struggled in against South Africa and Argentina), won the breakdown battle (thanks to Cheika's experiment of starting dual openside flankers David Pocock and Michael Hooper) and defended with venom.

It set the platform for Australia's first victory against the All Blacks since 2011 -- the year it also won the final edition of the Tri-Nations, the precursor to the Rugby Championship.

But it was far from a perfect performance, and questions remain around the halfback combination. Scrumhalf Nick Phipps had a terrible game. His passing was wild and he put his team under unnecessary pressure when he was given a 10-minute suspension for cynical play midway through the second half when the game was in the balance. Phipps never returned to the field, as Nic White came on as his replacement with just under 20 minutes to go and ended up playing a match-winning hand with a try, conversion and a penalty that took the game beyond the All Blacks' reach.

Flyhalf Bernard Foley -- not helped by Phipps's poor service -- again failed to give the team direction on attack, something that was remedied when Matt Toomua replaces him 10 minutes into the second half.

Toomua played a key role off the bench when Australia snatched victory on the last play of the game against South Africa in Brisbane last month and he did the same on Saturday with a neat grubber kick that set up Adam Ashley-Cooper's try and that must be putting pressure on Cheika to start Toomua next match.

In general, all the players being injected from the bench have played a big part in Australia's three Rugby Championship wins, and it is a sign Cheika is finally getting some strength in depth, which he will need at the World Cup in England and Wales, which begins next month. …

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