England defence coach John Mitchell says the Wallabies are always “highly intellectual” and suggested Michael Cheika will be doing his homework on England, despite claiming the contrary.
Cheika said on Monday he wasn’t a big believer in analysing the opposition, and preferred to focus almost entirely on improving the Wallabies’ game.
“I’m always telling my coaches not to watch the opposition so much,” Cheika said.
“They watch too much footage of the opposition. I’m interested in our blokes, our team and our analysis so that it can help us be better.”
Mitchell, who coached the Western Force and was the All Blacks’ coach when beaten by Australia in the 2003 Rugby World Cup semi-final, was drafted in by Eddie Jones as a defence coach just over a year ago and he is tasked with negating the Wallabies’ attack on Saturday in Oita.
Mitchell’s view of Cheika’s Wallabies is that they’re a “very clever football team”.
"They will be clever on the weekend. They are always clever and always have the ability to surprise. The love ball in their hands which is something which they thrive on,” Mitchell said.
That would appear to indicate the Wallabies do study their rivals, and use “cleverness” to exploit perceived weaknesses.
Asked about Cheika’s claim that he likes to focus his energy on his team, and not on analysing Test rivals, Mitchell said game plans had to be a mixture of both.
“I think it is really important to focus on your own strengths - I understand that comment,” Mitchell said.
"It is important to focus on your strengths but part of any game plan is you have also got to look at what you can take away from an opposition as well because that creates pressure.
"Creating pressure also create opportunities, which is what you are after, but first and foremost you should focus on yourself.”
Pressed as to whether it was a double-bluff ploy by Cheika, Mitchell said: “That’s not for me to comment on.”
"At the end of the day, having witnessed a number of teams play against Australia and also played against them myself as a youngster, they have always been highly intellectual in the way that they play the game and have always been clever and it something that I respect,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, a journeyman career who has coached extensively in England, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the USA, faced Australia in November last year but has not been involved in a World Cup clash against the Wallabies since the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
The defeat in Sydney spelled the end of his career as All Blacks coach.
Mitchell said his time spent inside the Australian system, and coaching against Aussie teams in Super Rugby, was of some assistance in understanding the mindset, and preparing for the Oita quarter-final.
But only to a point.
"It's helpful but, like anything, this is a new contest and this is a tournament that's a separate entity so ultimately at the end of the day all you can do is look at and witness the threats that they've posed through the way they've played recently,” Mitchell said.
"Clearly we are going to have some really excellent width in our defence at the weekend because they've love to play both sides of the ruck.
"That's really important for us to understand and we are looking forward to it because ultimately at the end of the day, all you want as a defensive team is to be tested and defence is very important to us and something we enjoy, so we are looking forward to whatever is chucked at us."
The ever-changing Wallabies backline has posed some level of challenge as far as planning a defence, said Mitchell.
“I would like to know who the 10 is,” Mitchell said.
"It an important role for any team and he drives the team around with 9.
"And Samu Kerevi who is a strong ball carrier who they move around in structured attacks. He looks like he is really enjoying his tournament and he is a threat we have to been aware of."
The shift in philosophy at outside centre has also created some new areas to study, said England centre Jonathon Joseph.
Instead of the hard, straight running of Tevita Kuridrani, James O’Connor’s style brings a different challenge.
"It has changed slightly with the change of personnel. You could argue O’Connor is going to release his outside backs a bit more than Kuridrani,” Joseph said.
"But our system doesn’t change, we work in unison - 10, 12, 13 we are all working together and are going to solve it together. It gives them potentially more options to spread the ball wide, they have a few more ball players in that backline now. We are fully focused on ourselves and our ability to defend well.”
Australia play England in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final at Oita Stadium on Saturday October 19, kicking off at 4:15pm local, 6;15pm AEDT, LIVE on Foxtel, Network Ten and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO, Rugby Xplorer and Amazon Alexa.