Cheika backs Barrett for Bledisloe start, brushes off Hansen's 'favourites' tag

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was ‘surprised’ by Steve Hansen’s suggestion Australia would be favourites in next weekend’s Test but he doesn’t expect to be surprised by their flyhalf pick.

There has been growing debate over the All Blacks flyhalf spot across the ditch, with a push for Richie Mo’unga to have a look in as starting 10 over Beauden Barrett after a dominant Crusaders season where he delivered a second straight Super Rugby title.

New Zealand coach Hansen has dismissed that suggestion in recent days and Cheika said on Friday he did not think Barrett would be knocked off.

“It doesn't really concern me I suppose but what I do know is this - Beauden Barrett has been the best player in world rugby for the last two years in a row and he's an exceptional player,” he said.

“I've coached teams that have felt his wrath personally and his skill and ability."

Cheika had plenty of praise for Mo’unga, who he randomly met on a family holiday recently, but a good impression wasn't enough to convince him of a surprise switch up.

Richie Mounga was a Super Rugby standout in 2018. Photo: Getty Images“There's no doubting that Mounga - he's a class player and a good young fella," he said.

“I happened to run into him I was on holiday with my kids over in Fiji and he was over there with a couple of other players so I got to meet him, he's a lovely young fella but Barrett's class and I think there's no doubt he's a player the All Blacks value very much and he'll be out there next Saturday."

While he agreed with Hansen's comments on Barrett, Cheika didn’t have quite as much time his counterpart's suggestion that the Wallabies would go into the first Bledisloe Test as favourites.

Assistant coach Ian Foster was quick to scale those comments back later in the week and the Wallabies’ $4.25 price in the betting markets also quickly dismiss the notion that Australia is more favoured.

“I've got to admit I was a little bit surprised (when I heard that),” Cheika said.

“Hansen's a fine coach, he's obviously a great rugby mind, he's leading the team as the best in the world.

“He's a great coach but I think he may have had that one wrong because I don't think many of his players would believe it to be honest.

“It's pretty irrelevant at the end of the day, it's for the bookies.”

Cheika brushed off the idea that Hansen had some kind of psychological agenda in putting the tag out there.

“Sometimes you say stuff and go 'Maybe I shouldn't have said that or whatever',” he said.

“I don't think it's a big deal, it's not like they're going on about it.”

“I don't think it's very realistic. I don't think his own blokes would believe it, so maybe that's why they didn't say it again after the presser.”

The Wallabies host the All Blacks in the first Bledisoe on Saturday August 18, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO, with the Wallaroos taking on the Black Ferns from 5:15pm AEST as well. Buy tickets here.