Connolly: Test mentality needed to square series for Cheika's Wallabies

John Connolly Profile
by John Connolly

It may seem like I’m stating the bleating obvious, but a Test match mentality is what is needed for Australia to tie the series with England and force a decider in Sydney next weekend. In the simplest terms, you’ve got to go through them before you go around them.

I liked the team Michael Cheika went with for the first Test in Brisbane and I couldn’t have been more impressed with the opening twenty minutes from the Wallabies. I just got the feeling though, after such a dominant start which ultimately collapsed and had England on top at half time, the danger signs were there.

That’s not to take away from the game plan, I thought the way the Wallabies attacked England was on the mark and our systems were good. We just didn’t have a player who could bend the line in attack.

There’s no doubt goal kicking let Australia down as well. In Test Rugby you’ve got to kick your goals.

With Pocock out injured for the remainder of the series, Sean McMahon has been given first crack at the number eight jersey in his home Test. It’s an interesting selection and Cheika has shown a lot of confidence in the Melbourne Rebels youngster.

Michael Cheika has given Sean McMahon the first opportunity to fill the void of David Pocock. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

I’m a huge fan of McMahon too, and he is certainly a strong ball carrier even though he isn’t a big man. When you look at McMahon alongside Michael Hooper, I worry about our size in the back row. Ben McCalman is on the bench and he gives you that punch as a ball-carrier.

Cheika will be expecting more from all of his backrowers and the rest of his pack carrying the ball this weekend. James Slipper coming in to start can offer something extra in that regard as well.

Our scrum was also a concern up in Brisbane and Scott Sio was unlucky to find himself in the bin. Looking at the overhead camera shots you could see how much tighter the England pack was at scrum time and this would have been a focus for Cheika and Mario Ledesma this week.

Scott Sio has been dropped from the match day 23 for the second Test. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

We may have also slightly underestimated England. They won the tactical battle and their line speed was terrific. They kept it tight with the ball and minimised the impact of Pocock and were safe in the lineout throwing to the number two slot on almost every occasion.

I worked with their lineout coach Steve Borthwick while I was at Bath. He’s a very bright man and I can remember telling him if he was ever in doubt, to throw to the front.

England’s approach has always been the same: don’t make errors, kick your goals, build pressure and the tries will come. Then win on the back of your defence.

England’s players play in the toughest conditions in the world, in tough competitions. Between the Premiership season which runs from October to May, European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, they never stop playing.

The major advantage Eddie Jones has is the depth at his disposal. Australia’s depth is being tested in this series and Michael Cheika doesn’t have the same number of world class players in his arsenal as Wallabies teams of the past.

Connolly says Eddie Jones has more 'world class' players at his disposal. Photo: Getty Images

It makes Cheika’s selections so important. Look at past Coaches and the talent they had at their disposal and it is easy to see why they were consistently at the top. The Alan Jones and Rod MacQueen teams each had up to seven world class players in their best XV. Cheika probably had 2 or 3 out there in Brisbane, one less without Pocock this weekend. Even Eddie had a stronger squad as Australia Coach and won less than 60% of his Tests.

I get the feeling the England role is sitting comfortably with Eddie. It suits his style because he has limited time with the team. When he is with them, his strong organisational skills come to the fore.

He comes in for a month and then they don’t see him until November for three or four weeks and then break again before coming together for the Six Nations for five or six weeks. The shorter bursts suit his style, which can be taxing on his team and staff in the long term.

We can see how well England have started under Eddie and I’m tipping he’ll have more success. It’s a big challenge for the Wallabies on Saturday night but I’m sure Cheika will have them up for it.