Seniors deliver a spray
Cheika glad players take the initiative
With the Wallabies trailing Argentina by three points after a dozy first half in Canberra, the scene was set for a trademark Michael Cheika spray.
The kind that blisters paint on a dressing room wall. But Cheika didn’t need to fire up.
When the coach hit the dressing rooms, senior players were doing the job already and after significantly upping the intensity, the Wallabies went on to pump the Pumas by 25 points.
It was the Wallabies’ first win in almost three months but of all the welcome sights for Cheika on the field in Canberra, the team’s self-correction in the sheds was among the most satisfying.
Cheika said on Sunday it was the first time he’d seen that trait from this new Wallabies team.
“It’s just the stepping stones the team is going through. Last night at half-time that was just another step forward because players were very vocal about turning that around, and turning the attitude around,” Cheika said.
“The players are driving that more and more. I think that’s a good step forward because when it comes from them, and they realise it, they own it and they have to change it.”
Cheika’s main gripe – shared by the team – was they’d failed to play with the urgency required for Test rugby in the opening 40 minutes against the Pumas.
Dropped passes, sloppy breakdown work and ineffective tackles had Argentina camped in the Aussie half for 71% of the half.
The encouraging part about the player-driven response, said Cheika, was that it wasn’t even initiated by captain Michael Hooper.
Senior players like newly appointed vice-captains Bernard Foley (pictured) and Will Genia, and returned star Kurtley Beale, were the loudest voices before Hooper took over.
Cheika said it was good to see them understanding how influential all their voices can be to the host of young players in the Wallaby squad.
“The guys really took ownership and knew what was going wrong and addressed it,” Foley said.
“We didn’t have to wait for the coaches to come in and give us the typical Cheika spray at half-time. We wanted to get on top of it and address it before anyone.”
The Wallabies’ forwards responded strongly, and using far more muscle in contact and with a dominant set-piece effort, the hosts’ pressure eventually told on the Pumas.
“It was just more focusing on us getting our intent right in the start of that second half and that was probably really pleasing to see the way the guys responded,” Foley said.