US defence big hit in World Cup warm-up
IT wasn’t always pretty but Wallaby coach Michael Cheika believes his team’s 47-10 win over the US in Chicago was the perfect preparation for their first Rugby World Cup match against Fiji in just over two weeks.
With their size, unorthodox playing style and devastating front-on tackling, the Fijians have been tipped by no less a judge than World Cup winner Michael Lynagh as the team that could have the final say in Australia’s “Pool of Death” that includes England and Wales.
The US, a fast improving side that in many ways mirrors Fiji, gave Australia a tough workout at Soldier Field.
“I think it was a good match for us because the physicality the American team brings would have been a good test for our forwards,” Cheika said.
“I think they had quite a good driving maul and that’s somewhere we wanted to test ourselves.
“We knew they had some good hard runners. I thought we fell off a few tackles in the first half but in the second half we were less hesitant. I think it was a good match to have in this block of two weeks while we’re here.”
While the scoreline suggests an easy night out for the Aussies, in reality it was anything but. The teams went into the sheds at halftime with Australia ahead by only 14-10 and some of the Eagles defence, especially from centres Seamus Kelly and Palamo Thretton, was teeth-rattling.
“Our backs got their fair share of getting hit,” Cheika said. “Sometimes our attack was a little flat so we didn’t have the options that we could play off. We took some big hits but you certainly learn when you get one of those clobberers from the big lads. You know to hold your feet a bit more and get some depth.”
Kurtley Beale, who alternated between fullback and five-eighth, was one Australian back who managed to do just that despite the Americans racing up fast in defence, while Sean McMahon and Tatafu Polota-Nau were outstanding in centrefield.
All three, along with halfback Will Genia, who brought composure and direction to the side when brought on early in the second half, put their hands up to play major roles in Australia’s World Cup opener in Cardiff on September 23.
Genia seemed to do enough to snatch the starting spot from Nick Phipps.
No matter who he picks, Cheika knows they will be in for a tough night.
“Fiji are going to be a massive threat and I’m not saying that with any type of lip service,” he said. “I’ve coached in Europe, I’ve seen a lot of their players who are playing in Europe evolve over a long period of time.
“Half of them are playing in the Southern Hemisphere in Super Rugby.
“They’ve got experience now at the top level of rugby provincially where they probably didn’t have that before.
“That game will be a massive challenge.”