England aerial barrage behind selection tactic, says Cheika

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The expectation of a high ball barrage from England on Sunday was the major reason for Wallabies coach Michael Cheika adding Jack Maddocks to his back three at Twickenham.

After making a series of changes to play Italy, Cheika has reverted to the core of the side who played against Wales a week earlier; but with several selection calls that have still garnered debate among fans.

Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale have been the high-profile casualties in the backline, though the plan for the former was only ever to play him against Italy as a litmus test ahead of 2019.

Where Ashley-Cooper is a known entity for a World Cup campaign, Cheika wants to see more of Maddocks and he has been preferred over Sefa Navailu, who played against Wales, for his aerial capabilities.

The Rebels youngster will line up on the wing in a back three that also includes Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty - a trio that Cheika said was set up to combat the English kicking game.

Rookie Tom Banks could also have been an option there but the Brumbies back was the latest player struck down with the bug going through the team and missed training on Thursday.

Jack Maddocks will have his third Test start this weekend. Photo: Getty ImagesEngland have often leant on kicking to get on top of Australia and Cheika said the trio would be critical in diffusing that threat.

“Maddocks has been going well and I think there's a real opportunity for him to get some experience in the cauldron of Twickenham,” he said.

“He's a good aerial player so - we know England will be kicking a lot of high balls to us, the halfback's an excellent kicker of the ball from the base of the ruck.

“So we know we're going to get a lot of that and we know that they're trying to consistently target Foley and Beale and the halfback or whoever it is post-delivery.

“So, we've just got to make sure that when they do come aerial, we're dealing with it and we're dealing with it consistently, not one and two.

“We've got some good aerial players and I think Maddocks will add to that aerial threat for ourselves."

Beale’s is the most discussed omission in the team, both because of public debate around his form and also the emotion of the Wallabies playing in the Indigenous jersey this weekend.

It will be the first time the Wallabies wear the jersey overseas and just the second time they wear it overall but Cheika said that emotion couldn’t be part of the decision.

“It’s tough but that’s part of footy, that's the way it goes,” he said.

“You’ve got to understand, you've got to be clear with why but then that's it. And he’s been, since he’s found out, he’s been a strong contributor as well, along with all the players that haven't got to play this week.

“There's a bunch of players that are not playing this week that are very disappointed. Some guys that haven’t been able to get a game on the tour at all. It's also a little bit about wanting to give...I think some of our young players deserve the chance to go out and experience this.

The combination of opting for Matt To’omua at 10 and Bernard Foley at 12 for the second week in a row and David Pocock’s injury effectively pushed Beale out of the 23 with a 6-2 bench named on Thursday.

If Pocock’s neck injury rules him out, there remains a decent chance Beale would still come back into the 23 with a 5-3 bench.

Foley had a poor game at 12 against Italy and has had indifferent performances with that number on his back in the past but Cheika said he felt another look at that playmaking combination would be beneficial.

“Yeah it can be better for sure but I think the opportunity to play again together,” he said.

“We've got a few things we might do a little different this week that I'd like to see that combination do together and I think that giving them the opportunity to get together again a second time is not going to hurt them at all.”

Matt Toomua. Photo: Getty ImagesEngland coach Eddie Jones said on Thursday that he’d happily do away with jersey numbers and focus on a squad of 23 and in some ways, Foley and To’omua’s combination at Twickenham could reflect that thinking.

Foley and Toomua often share the first receiver role at Wallabies training and it's foreseeable that Toomua would happen Ben Te'o in defence.

Cheika said he wanted to see Foley run the ball more, something he has done little of in recent weeks.

“The way we play, those guys are really interchangeable 10 and 12,” Cheika said.

“It's probably more some of the set piece things are different but he'd be really doing the same role, and probably looking for Foley to run a little bit more, without giving too much away to the opposition.

“I think they’ll know what we want to do.

“Probably looking at Foley running a little bit more at the line.

“He's very good when he gets up and starts running at the line like that.

“And to bring some consistency in the game as well, just the same thing every time. I want to play him into that shape.”

In the pack, Taniela Tupou was a surprise omission in the final game of the year but that is down to Sekope Kepu starting in the no.3 spot, having returned from a few outings at loosehead.

Allan Alaalatoa is reserve tighthead on the bench, with Jermaine Ainsley the reserve loosehead.

Cheika said he felt on a level he “owed” Kepu a return to his familiar spot in the tighthead jersey, a move that ultimately cost Tupou despite the 22-year-old impressing generally against Italy.

The Wallabies have been inconsistent at scrum time on their Spring Tour this year and Cheika said he wanted to give all of the front rowers a chance to prove themselves.

“I've been giving everyone an opportunity this tour,” he said.

“I think Taniela had a great game against Italy and his consistency in matches has been a bit of an issue  but he's only very young playing in probably a more mature position but we've a lot of young guys playing there.

“I think bar, I don't want to out Tatafu and Keps, but (bar those two) the whole front row, they're all under 25.

“Tolu, Scotty Sio's just 26 I think, Allan Alaalatoa's 23, Tupou's 22, Jermaine Ainsley's 22.

“Kepu - we asked him to do a job for us changing over to the left when Tom Robertson went down with his ACL and he’s done that and I feel like I owe him the opportunity back on the right, that’s where he wants to be.”

The Wallabies take on England at Twickenham on Saturday November 24, kicking off at 3pm local, Sunday 2am AEDT, LIVE on beIN Sports and SBS.