Combative Cheika has Wallabies in the groove
If a confident Australian is a dangerous Australian, then a confident and aggrieved Australian assumes a different level of menace entirely.
England should beware the Wallabies, because, led by their vengeful coach, they are determined to prove they should not be taken lightly. Of course, few know their countrymen as well as Eddie Jones, and he is not about to allow complacency anywhere near the Red Rose psyche. Certainly not when he sees the tapes of Australia’s 13th successive victory over Wales, in which their biggest names reminded all of their quality. They demand respect, but coach Michael Cheika believes they are sorely lacking in that area.
“We understand that the pundits over here don’t think we have much of a chance,” Cheika said. “They have already given England 3-0 for November. One guy said, ‘All respect to Australia, but a decent club side would beat them’. So I don’t think there is too much for them to worry about.”
Except there is. Australia are in the groove. This extended their unbeaten run to seven games, during which they defeated the All Blacks three weeks ago. Granted, England beat them four times in 2016, but on the evidence of the past few months they are a different proposition now.
Will Genia is returning to the form that saw him hailed as the game’s finest scrum-half a few years ago. His bullet pass for Adam Coleman’s try was sheer class, but then Genia’s afternoon was packed with the stuff. His partnership with Bernard Foley is re-establishing its world-class credentials.
The last time Genia faced England was in the 2015 World Cup and a match which featured the home side making history as the first hosts ever to fall at the group stages. “I missed out on the England games last year, so I can’t wait for the challenge,” Genia said, before recalling the 33-13 rout. “A lot of stuff came off for us that day, we were sharp both mentally and physically. It was a great performance, but all that is done. We’re not worried about things that have happened before.”
Cheika will likely bring Kurtley Beale into inside centre from fullback at the expense of the imposing but limited Samu Kerevi. Beale has an uncanny knack of producing the match-winning moment, and here it came in the 65th minute when he ripped the ball off Steff Evans and ran 60 metres under the posts.
Warren Gatland referred to it as “sort of freakish” and posed the possibility of his Wales team ending their nine-year drought without it. That seemed a stretch, despite the attacking intent and greater creativity on display throughout the home ranks.
Cheika’s main concern was the penalty count, which was, remarkably, 15-3 in Wales’s favour. “Consistency is what we are looking for,” Cheika said. “We go inside the 10-metre, and we are penalised. Fair enough. Then two plays later, the linesman calls the referee and says the Welsh are inside the fivemetre off a scrum and he says it’s all good. There was just so much commentary coming from the sidelines. We’ve got to solve a problem we haven’t had all year. We’ve not been in double digits almost all year, so to go 15 in our first game in Europe surprised me.”
Cheika complimented Wales and there was a generally upbeat reaction, regardless of the deja vu. Barry John, a long-time critic of Gatland, was fulsome in his Wales on Sunday column. “From crash, bang, we were suddenly like piano players with the ball, touching it lightly and deftly,” he said. There was high praise for Owen Williams, the Gloucester fly-half making his first international start at No 12. As John said, the 25-year-old “oozed class”.
The evening ended with the sad sight of Jonathan Davies leaving the stadium on crutches. The fear is that his ankle injury will cause him to miss the rest of the autumn.
Match details, P16