Cheika rues missed opportunities, lauds 'Pooper' after PE loss

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has pointed to his side's inability to turn both territory and pressure into points as the decisive factor in the Wallabies' loss to the Springboks.

The 23-12 defeat in front of just over 41,000 fans at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was an improvement on the loss to the Pumas but that isn't really saying a great deal.

David Pocock, Will Genia, Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale were all in fine form but some glaring issues remain.

The first of those is the inability to turn an extraordinary amount of territory (79 percent) in the second half into points which would have made the match a one score game at the death.

"We didn’t really capitalise on the opportunities we created for ourselves," Cheika said post match.

"I thought we created some very good opportunities then we just couldn’t get the finish on a couple of times.

"It was two tries all, we basically gave one away and then we had a lot of good footy but you’ve got to capitalise on your moments don’t you.

"We had those moments and we couldn’t capitalise on them and therefore we couldn’t get another try or two to get us in the leading position. "

The second glaring issue is Australia's lineout.

Folau Faingaa faltered in his first Test start with two lost lineouts and several other throws which resulted in scrappy ball for Genia and Brandon Paenga-Amosa didn't do much better when he entered the fray.

It has become part of the Wallabies' game which is easy pickings for opposition and continues to kill any attacking momentum they generate.

But Cheika wasn't so sure his side were entirely at fault on the lineout front.

"You say the lineout is spluttering, they steal one off us when they’ve got six and we’ve got five," Cheika said.

"If they can’t get that one, they can’t get any.

"We’ve got five, they’ve got six, they steal the ball of us, it’s play on. 

"Whether we’re spluttering or not I don’t know.

"We took the ball at the front a fair bit, we lost a couple I think maybe two.

"If we want to try and get ball where we want it to we’ve got to be a bit more creative if they’re going to pod middle and back."

On a more positive note Cheika should be pleased with the way his side responded to Beale's blunder and Faf de Klerk's try.

The intercept in the opening minute set the tone for a poor 20 minutes in which de Klerk then extended the lead to 14-0.

But at that point it felt as though the match could have been a complete blowout.

The end result was anything but.

"We were down 14-0 after 10 minutes in a bit of a cauldron atmosphere and considering where we’ve been at the last few weeks and everything that has been happening to us I suppose, we held our nerve really well, fought our way back into the game," Cheika said.

"I don't think we dominated the physical contest enough but we were still able to manufacture a lot of opportunities."

One element of the game which seemed to rile Cheika was the officiating of Jerome Garces.

The flamboyant French referee did not send de Klerk to the bin despite the halfback deliberately slapping Australian ball down twice.

"I just know the games we play when there’s a slap-down, our guy keep going to the sin bin," Cheika said.

"They’re playing a hard line speed, arm’s out in front of the ball and no one is going anywhere, it’s knocked down.

"We need to get some clarity around that because we’re trying to play attacking footy.

"Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should play more kicking."

As bad as Beale's early blunder was he did play his best game of the season in the 79 minutes that followed.

He attacked the line, created several chances and played a more off the cuff brand of football which made the Australians unpredictable.

"I thought he came back from that pretty well really," Cheika said.

"That would have spooked him a bit but I thought the rest of his game was pretty solid.

"He tried to set the forwards up as best he could, he took some opportunities, he tried to run on the inside section when the high line came on the outside.

"He probably needed a player on the inside and we weren't giving him that option but if you look at the rest of the game and the number of attacking setups we had there was plenty of them and he was instrumental in a lot of them."

Beale was aided by a pair of herculean performances from Hooper and Pocock.

The pair played themselves to a standstill and Cheika lauded their efforts post match.

"Outstanding players both of them and they are a huge asset to the team and to the rugby in our country as well," he said.

"Just the nature of the way they put themselves in the game.

"I feel for them like I do for all the players that right now they aren't getting the rewards and that must hurt when you put yourself into the contest so hard and with such commitment. "

It's the commitment Cheika is seeing in his leaders which fills him with the belief that the Wallabies can scrape out a win in Salta next weekend.

Lose that match and they will have finished last in The Rugby Championship for the first time since the four team format was introduced in 2012.

The heat will well and truly be on if that is the result this time next week.

"You keep asking the same question every week but I'm not changing," Cheika said.

"No one wants to win more than me, trust me. I think that's pretty obvious.

"But like I said before tough situations come and then they go away and the tough people will stay.

"You can cry about it and sook or you can go about getting improvements.

"I think we made improvements this week and things haven't been going for us either.

"You have to ride that out and come out on the other side.

"We are a strong group together - the playing group and the staff around them.

"We are feeling it but together we know we are going to come out of it."