Wallabies will make numbers work for Hunt return

Sun, Sep 17, 2017, 10:00 AM
Beth Newman
by Beth Newman
A vastly improved 2nd half from the Wallabies has seen them convincingly defeat the Pumas by a final score of 45-20. The win sees them notch their first win of the 2017 Rugby Championship.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says they'll 'make the numbers work' when Karmichael Hunt returns to full fitness in coming weeks.

Hunt has been out of action since July with syndesmosis and had hoped to be fit to join the Wallabies squad for next week’s trip to South Africa, but is more likely to stay home and play NRC.

“Karmichael will be back playing NRC probably next week,” he said.

“We need him to have a game, so we might see how he goes in that first NRC game and then we'll decide whether he would maybe meet us in Argentina or if he needs another game of NRC and then another one after that before the last Bledisloe.

“We're eager for him to be back in sooner rather than later, he's got good chat, he's been in big game situations, (that) can only be of benefit to us.”

Cheika said the 30-year-old, who was close to Australia’s best player in June, would likely find a spot back in the 23 when fit.

Hunt had a stranglehold on the No. 12 spot in June, but Kurtley Beale’s impeccable return makes Hunt’s comeback path less straightforward.

The three-Test back has played mainly fullback for the Reds in Super Rugby this season and with the Wallabies’ tendency to play versatile outside backs, his chance could come there.

“We'll work it out somehow, we'll make the numbers work,” Cheika said.

“With Dane (Haylett-Petty’s) absence now there's also some options opening up in the back field too but then you see the wingers coming up now.

“Marika played well last night, (Reece) Hodge was outstanding and Sefa Naivalu will be back, was going to play this week NRC, so he'll probably have a run next week.”

Cheika felt he saw a key moment in the team’s development on Saturday night, with the players taking the reins at half-time to turn the side around.

Beyond Michael Hooper, it was players like vice-captains Bernard Foley and Will Genia who stood up as well as Kurtley Beale and Cheika said it was the first time he'd seen that from this team.

“Last night, half-time, that was another step forward because the players were very vocal in there around turning that around, turning the attitude around even though the scoreline wasn't huge, but just turning the attitude around and that's where all that stuff starts is when players start driving it more and more.

“It's not going to be just all of a sudden a line in the sand, everything changes there, that's part of the experience that comes.

“Players who have a bit more experience like Beale, like Foley, like Genia, are working in there better and being much more vocal and I think they're realising that voice counts.”

On the field, Australia’s fitness has improved from June, pointing to some strong finishes, including their five-try second half in Canberra, as a sign of growth.

“(It’s) more in the way we're able to play out the back half of games,” he said.

“Even in Dunedin I suppose we came back in that back 20, so we saw yesterday after half-time it was a four-and-a-half minute phase of play that went (our way) so it set up the rest of the half for us because it felt we had the running in our legs.

“I still think we can get better, get fitter in that area but it's probably going to have to wait until another preseason in the back of us because we're in the middle of the season now.

“We'll get more game fit, better at it, but I think all our finishes have been there or there abouts.

“The South Africa one, even then, it was more poor play.

“We made some great scrambles back to save ourselves there a couple of times, so pretty pleased with that area now.”

The Wallabies will take a slightly smaller squad to South Africa and Argentina, with roughly 31 making the trip over when the team leaves next Saturday.

LIVE: Wallabies maintain lead over Wales
The All Blacks came back to take down England in Auckland. Photo: Getty Images
All Blacks hold on for thrilling win over England
Wallabies v Wales Game Two: How to watch in Australia, teams, fixtures and more
Australia U20s coach Nathan Grey is using the pain of the cancelled Ireland game as motivation to finish the U20 Championships. Photo: Getty Images
Australia U20s using Ireland hurt to fuel Wales fire