Cheika calls on Kepu, Simmons to improve "work ethic"

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika called on veteran forwards Sekope Kepu and Rob Simmons to improve their work ethic after the former was dropped for the first time since 2010.

The Wallabies were far from pleased with Kepu's shift in the Sydney Bledisloe and the 96-Test stalwart was subsequently benched for Allan Alaalatoa, who gave a big performance in Auckland.

With Taniela Tupou returning from injury, the 32-year-old has subsequently been left off the bench to meet the Springboks in Brisbane.

Cheika explained his decision by making it clear he had drawn a line in the sand on work ethic for Kepu and his Waratahs teammate Simmons.

"For our tight five players - it's the same for Rob Simmons who misses out on this squad - for our tight five players and especially ones with experience, work ethic is king," Cheika said.

"They know that they can do better and I know having watched them at training this week that they're both quality guys.

"They have been chomping at the bit to try and make up a gap that they feel they may have left.
Kepu has been a fixture in the Wallabies fold for almost a decade. Photo: Walmsley"Now it's an opportunity for other players so we will see who it takes it."

Taniela Tupou is the first of those players with a golden opportunity.

While Alaalatoa shored up the scrum in Auckland Tupou is a special talent who displayed an ability to turn a Test on its head against Ireland.

"It’s a big responsibility, one of our most experienced players we’ve left out for Taniela to come into the team," Cheika said.

"We see him as a player who still has a lot to learn but he can bring a lot on game day as well.

"We’ve got to remember this guy has only got four caps, maybe.

"I don’t want to expect too much of him either. I want him to grow as a footballer.

"We’ve given him the opportunities here and he’s a good fella.

"I’m sure on his home deck he’ll put in a good performance."Taniela Tupou was a force against Ireland. Photo: WalmsleySimmons' omission was triggered by the inclusion of Rory Arnold in the starting XV.

The Brumbies behemoth played his last Test almost exactly one year ago to the day and Cheika expects him to lead the physicality charge on Saturday.

"He’s aggressive and he’s a big, tall unit so it will certainly be an interesting battle with the South Africa locks because they’re big men themselves," Cheika said.

"I think he’s got a really good work ethic and I really believe that’s the driver inside.

"We can talk a lot of technical things but getting back off the ground, getting back into the game as fast as possible and as urgently as possible is one of the most important traits for tight five players.

"I think that’s something Rory brings and I’m sure he’ll empty the tank."

Israel Folau has been given the all clear to return from an ankle muscle injury but David Pocock is still suffering from an Owen Franks neck roll in Auckland.

He has not taken part in contact sessions this week but Cheika said he will be given every chance to start on Saturday.

"He hasn’t done a lot of contact work this week which is always not good when you’re going into a big game like this," he said.

"You know him, he wants to play at all costs so I think he’s got enough experience to leave him off the odd session here or there to understand that come game time he will be ready.

"I think also if he plays we’ve got to make sure that we protect him a little bit more.

"He’s taken a lot of action to his head and neck and we need to protect him a little bit more if he’s out there."

The Wallabies face the Springboks at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, kicking off at 8pm AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Channel Ten and radio.