Mortlock: Cheika sticking to his guns

Stirling Mortlock
by Stirling Mortlock

Michael Cheika isn’t really taking a gamble with his selections this weekend, rather he is backing himself and more importantly his players who have proven themselves.

Cheika is very adamant about picking players on their current form and he’s done that at all the clubs he’s been at, before being elevated to the Wallabies.

He gives players a chance to prove themselves and then picks them based on form - exactly how things should be. He also brings back older players into the fold to get the job done.

Players such as Giteau and Mitchell last year and the likes of Horwill and Kepu this year.

This balance of picking some new players on form and having a few “old dogs” in the mix all adds up to players wanting to play for Cheik and the Jersey.

Sean McMahon was a standout in Sevens. Photo: Getty ImagesSean McMahon has had little experience at number eight and he gives away plenty of bulk to his monster opposite number, Billy Vunipola.

He hasn’t started at eight at provincial or Test level but he has been one of, if not the, most damaging forwards in the Australian Super Rugby teams this season, in particular with ball in hand.

McMahon has always played out of his weight range and his aggressive nature means this won’t be the obstacle some might think.

I remember seeing Sean playing Sevens and going back and asking everyone around about him.

What he’s done since then, with the engine he’s carried over from the shorter format of the game, has been phenomenal and he plays with this incredible fearlessness that you can’t really teach players.

Michael Cheika has spoken of his confidence in McMahon and vice-captain Michael Hooper emphasised that Sean’s aggression and physicality was the key point of difference in the incoming.

Sean McMahon has impressed in Super Rugby. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyThere’s an argument that it’s risky to put McMahon in because of the structure of set piece.

When you’re looking at set piece, there was only one or two scrums in the first Test where the ball was actually used from that set piece.

So you could potentially argue that having someone at the back of the scrum to solve that scenario will be critical.

The other argument it’s risky worrying about a facet of the game in which last week there were so many penalties given that the potential to play off the scrum was limited. 

Aside from McMahon, Cheika also isn’t afraid to make some changes, replacing both starting props from last week.

It’s important to realise when to scrap a plan and when to stick it out and there is no chance of any pre-emptive perception from Craig Joubert when it comes to scrum time this week, with new faces in the pack.

Looking at the backline, the most important change is adding an extra back to the bench and making it a 5-3 split of forwards and backs as opposed to last week’s 6-2 

We saw in Brisbane that it takes just one injury to derail a setup and while Samu Kerevi battled manfully, he played out of position for most of the game.

Cheika has backed him to show his skills in a more complete game this weekend and that is the best thing he could do for a debutant after a game like that opening Test

Rob Horne's injury disrupted the Wallabies last week. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyJust because he has stuck with the same lineup for the attack, that doesn’t mean things will run the same in the second Test.

Three-Test series are fascinating contests and while teams build each week, every match is treated like an isolated contest.

Don’t expect the Wallabies to make all their breaks in the second wave of attack out wide like last week, in the game of cat and mouse that is Test rugby.