Back row balance is just right: Cheika

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says his side’s set piece won’t be compromised by a backrow switcheroo that has left Brumbies flanker Scott Fardy on the pine.

Cheika will start 13 of the 15 players that ran on in last year’s World Cup final, with winger Drew Mitchell and blindside flanker Scott Fardy missing.

Mitchell is still recovering from groin surgery, while Fardy has been shifted to the bench for Force no. 8 Ben McCalman.

McCalman’s elevation raised questions about the Wallabies’ lineout potency, with Michael Hooper and David Pocock combining in the back row already giving them a relatively small loose forward unit.

MIchael Cheika says Fardy's absence won't hurt lineout. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyCheika said he was confident that their jumpers would be just as effective this time around, even against the defensive threat the All Blacks’ set piece poses.

“We've been working on a few things there and he's shown his quality there and we know that New Zealand are the best lineout defenders in the game,’ he said.

“We're going to have to be on our money tactically in what we do there and each one in his role, Ben included, when the game’s on and the heat of battle, really clear on what their job is inside of our lineout.”

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the move was evidence the Wallabies were prioritising edge at the breakdown over lineout versatility.

“The lineout and scrum are always important,” he said.

“That's the platforms you can attack off and they've substituted their height for breakdown tenacity I guess and that's not the first time they've done it, it's a trick they've played numerous times now since probably a year ago and it's worked for them.

“It's the risk and reward, isn’t it? In their minds, they believe the risk is worth the reward that they'll get for it.

Dean Mumm has been picked on the bench. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyDean Mumm joins Scott Fardy on the bench, leaving Sean McMahon on the sidelines, though Cheika said a broken nose had prevented the Rebels rookie from being part of the 23.

“He's had a bit of a problem with his nose, like a break in his nose or some type of crap in his nose,” he said.

“When the doc asked him how long he's had it for, he said maybe four or five days I can't be sure.

“But it's nothing that's going to keep him out so he'll get attended to and he'll be back on deck very soon.”

Cheika has opted to reunite Will Genia and Bernard Foley in the Wallabies halves, despite Genia having last played in January.

Will Genia is back to full fitness. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyGenia has been in full training since arriving in Australia and Cheika said he had shown enough to prove he was ready for Test rugby.

“He's worked very hard from a fitness point of view I know since he's come back,” he said.

“Of course, nothing simulates the game like the game itself but he's got plenty of experience to know how to manage himself in a game and when to take advantage of the situations that are there and experience in the halves is very, very important."

 Quade Cooper missed out on the 23. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyWith Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua and Rob Horne on the bench, Cheika found no room for the returned Quade Cooper, who the Wallabies coach said had room to improve.

“There's a few things that I want him, and we've spoken about it, that I'd like him to improve on to really claim that starting role and I'm sure he'll be doing that,” he said.

“He'll be getting those things in order so that he can contest with Foley and have the opportunities to play and in relation to the bench, I felt that Toomua covered a few more positions for what we needed and he's done well for us as well.”