Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has defended the inclusion of Australia’s Europe-based players in his Bledisloe squad, as he prepares for the biggest challenge of his coaching career.
The return of Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and Will Genia has not been without its critics, with Fairfax columnist Spiro Zavos the most vocal, suggesting the veterans were costing young Wallabies chances to develop.
It’s a suggestion at which Ashley-Cooper, Giteau and Mitchell publicly bristled and after the Wallabies’ 42-8 loss to the All Blacks in Sydney, Cheika dismissed the notion that the result vindicated the critics.
“Any of the criticism about our game and how we play is fully warranted 100 per cent, there's no issue around that,” he said.
“I thought Will Genia was one of the players who did stand up in that game - Giteau played for about a minute or two so that's a convenient thing for people to say and look for a reason (why we lost).
“The reality is that the Australian team didn't play well that day and since I've been here, win or loss, we've always been pretty true to our identity and that's the first time I don't think that we have and we've got to make that right.”
Giteau will not play again this Rugby Championship, though the Wallabies could field three European players, with Adam Ashley-Cooper and Will Genia and Drew Mitchell in the mix for the 23, after missing the opening Test.
For Cheika, the focus this week is overcoming what he rates as the biggest hurdle of his time at the Wallabies, with Australia looking for its first win in New Zealand since 2001.
“It’s probably the biggest (challenge),” he said.
“It's a big stage and it's a big challenge for us.
“The criticism from the performance is very warranted, no doubt about that and when there's a lot of that talk in your head you start to get weighed down by it.
“They're feeling pretty terrible about it so we've got to get them back up into a situation where that's driving them to do something better this weekend.
“I know a lot of people think the same result's going to happen and we understand that but it's up to us to prove otherwise.”
Cheika has spoken throughout his tenure of his team’s identity and the Wallabies mentor felt a move away from that was the most disappointing element of last week’s defeat, but backed them to return to that this weekend.
“It hasn't gone, this year, how we wanted it to but we're not going to go and cry with our thumb in our mouth back to Mummy,” he said.
“We're going to fight and get ourselves sorted out.
“That may be enough, it may not be, but that's what we're definitely going to do this weekend.”
The Wallabies travel to Wellington on Wednesday ahead of the second Bledisloe Cup Test on Saturday, starting at 5:35pm AEST.