FACING A TEST OF STRENGTH
It’s now or never for Cheika’s men to prove mettle
FORGET the spin about it being a marathon, not a sprint.
Today’s monster World Cup clash with Wales is Australia’s biggest match in years.
The Wallabies won’t get knocked out if they lose and they won’t be gifted a run to the final in Yokohama on November 2 if they win.
But in the fair dinkum stakes, today’s game is the day we find out if the Wallabies are peaking at the right time and are real contenders to Bring Back Bill or whether it’s all just hot air and they don’t have a chance in hell.
For Australia’s long suffering fans who have endured four years of misery since the Wallabies made the 2015 final, it’s now or never for Michael Cheika’s men to walk the walk because they’ve been telling everyone it’ll be right on the night for way too long.
There is a huge bonus for winning today: an easier path to the final, most likely France in the quarterfinals and either South Africa or Ireland in the semis but that’s really just the cherry on top.
A loss today won’t be terminal but will leave the Wallabies with a far more treacherous path: probably England in the quarters then New Zealand in the semis.
Like all coaches, sticking to the mantra that every team is as hard as the next to beat, Cheika insists the path the Wallabies take doesn’t matter but that’s just his way of trying to deflect pressure because he knows today’s match is the real test of whether the Wallabies have what it takes.
“Every game here is a grand final,” he said. “So I’m not looking past anything beyond this game.”
Nice try, Michael, but noone is falling for that old chestnut any more because as tough an opponent as Wales are, they’re not going to be winning this World Cup.
If the Wallabies can’t beat Wales, they may as well pack up their bags and head home now because they won’t beat the All Blacks, Springboks or Eddie Jones’ England and Cheika knows that well.
“We have to be exactly in the right headspace when we get to the kick off so we’re just ready to go,” he said.
“We don’t worry about what’s going to happen after that game, it’s all irrelevant, it’s all speculation.
“We’re just focusing on doing our best and playing our game and enjoying it and ripping in and feeling, you know, pain, bleeding for your team then go from there.”
In days gone by, beating Wales would be a given for the Wallabies.
They are the one European team Australia has no problems with, winning 13 of their last 14 clashes.
But those days are gone. The Wallabies had their worst season in 60 years in 2018 and saw their winning streak against Wales broken. Now Wales are the favourites and teasing the Wallabies that they have more in store.
“We have tried things in the warm-ups games and we've held a bit back,” Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones said.
“We perform when big games come around. We have a big test in front of us, and we won’t shy away from that.”
While Wales were able to put the cue in the rack in their romp against Georgia, the Wallabies had to dramatically change their game to beat a stubborn Fiji.
They got there in the end but it wasn’t pretty as they tried to throw the ball around like millionaires but just couldn’t make the passes.
It was proof they’re not as good as they think but today we get to see how good they really are.
Wallabies centre James O’Connor stretches during a gym session in Tokyo last week. Picture: AFP