Bledisloe blow-outs prompted Cheika change on trials

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

A 72-9 scoreboard deficit in the first halves of the last two Bledisloe Cup games in Sydney was the catalyst for Michael Cheika to change his mind about a Wallabies trial match in August.

The Wallabies announced on Thursday they will break with tradition and hold an internal trial match on August 3 at Leichhardt Oval, with Cheika's side to take on a Super Rugby selection coached by Tim Walsh and John Manenti.

Though Cheika has said in the past he didn't believe a pre-Bledisloe warm-up game, similar to the one the All Blacks schedule each year, would be of value, the coach said the match was worth a try given the destructively slow starts of the Wallabies in the last two years. 

The Wallabies have struggled badly against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium after more than a month of lead-in without any matches of rugby, with just one team into the finals.

Last year the trailed 40-6 at halftime before a 54-34 defeat, and that loss followed a dismal 2016 effort where New Zealand beat them 42-8, after being up 32-3 at the break.

“Spending five weeks on the sideline before a Bledisloe Test match is not what we want ideally. We want guys to play footy," Cheika said.

"You can't be sure (no warm-up game) is the reason why for the first half of both games in the last two years, but if it is, we will try and take it out of the equation by playing some footy."

The last time the Wallabies beat the All Blacks in Sydney was in a World Cup-affected 2015 season, when the Bledisloe Tests were the last of the Rugby Championship.

A 2014 12-all draw is the most recent instance where the Wallabies were able to avoid defeat in their August opener, and that also came off the back of the Brumbies and Waratahs both going deep into the finals.

This season, Cheika hopes the internal trial match against a side made up of Super Rugby and club players will prevent them going in cold.

Once the national staff knew the numbers they would have in camp, the trial match began to come to fruition, confirmed for Friday August 3 at Leichhardt Oval on Thursday.

“You can never be sure (how much it contributes) but I think if you look back to the previous years before that - '15 we played the last two Tests against New Zealand, '14 I think Tahs and Brumbies were in the finals, (they both) went to semi-final and I think that draw in game one,” Cheika said.

“You can't be sure but we've got to pay attention to all those small details and I think playing footy is better than training, so I'm sure the guys will enjoy it a lot more.

"If we look at the last two years we just want to  keep the intensity of footy up."

The team the Wallabies play will be a mix of Super Rugby and club players, though club players will only be selected if they are out of finals contention, ruling out the involvement of Quade Cooper or Karmichael Hunt.

Players in contention to face off against the Wallabies outfit include lock Richie Arnold and Eastwood halfback Mick Snowden, who has played with the Rebels and the Force.

“I think (we'll have) Super Rugby players from the different teams playing together and we'll mix and match it too, when they come down next week, and then maybe a few club players,” Cheika said of the makeup of the Wallabies’ opposition.

Cheika said the Wallabies wanted to make the match feel as close to a full game as possible, with the potential for rolling substitutions the only major change.

“We might be able to put players back on and off or stuff like that, a bit of an interchange system so we get what we want out of the fixture but at the end of the day we want it to be as close to a real game as possible,” he said.

“I think there's going to be some opportunities for guys to have a chance in the way we play who haven't played before and then some more established campaigners maybe that have got their positions knuckled down."

The match will be a chance for some of those Wallabies squad members who haven’t made their debut or didn’t earn much game time in June to step up as well, Cheika said.

“Obviously 13's an open position with the two injuries to the lads and (it’s also) a chance for guys I think who have had a small amount of time, like Joe Powell, who I think did really well when he came on in that last Test, to get a bit more time,” he said.

“Guys like Caleb Timu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela, (we’ll look) to get more time in there and I think guys who've had big time during the season, they'll probably get a layoff this week and then go into that game next week and then a couple of weeks before the Test.”

The Wallabies will play an internal trial against a Super Rugby selection on Friday August 3, kicking off at 6:45pm AEST, LIVE on