Cheika leaves Beale and Ashley-Cooper out on disciplinary grounds
Today England v Australia Twickenham Stadium, 3.30 Sky Sports Action
Australia were plunged into chaos on the eve of today’s encounter with England after it emerged Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper were not available for selection for disciplinary reasons, just hours after David Pocock was ruled out through injury.
Beale and Ashley-Cooper have been sanctioned for allowing three women back to their hotel in Newport after the defeat by Wales two weeks ago. Both featured against Italy last Saturday but coach Michael Cheika acted at the start of the week after the incident was brought to his attention by the Wallabies’ senior leadership group, which includes captain Michael Hooper.
It is believed Ashley-Cooper’s sister-in-law was among the women in attendance, contravening team rules which state no guests are allowed in players’ rooms.
“The leadership group came to me earlier in the week and asked me to deal with it in a way I thought was appropriate, and I thought this was the appropriate way,” said Cheika. “We have had an inconsistent season because we have often taken short cuts when we have needed to go harder and get to the well a little bit more and dig a bit deeper.”
Australia were dealt a significant injury blow yesterday their breakdown master Pocock was ruled out of the Twickenham clash. The number eight injured his neck in a 26-7 victory over Italy last weekend, but was named to start by Cheika when he announced his side to face England on Thursday.
Failed fitness test
Pocock has since failed a fitness test and, although Australia have yet to confirm a replacement, it is likely Pete Samu will step up from the bench.
“He’s hurting but he’s desperate to play,” Cheika said of Pocock on Thursday. “He’s had them at him all year. He puts his head into places people go to and he’s copped a fair few whacks in there this year.”
Between them, Beale and Ashley-Cooper have 200 caps but both have had disciplinary problems in the past. Beale was fined and narrowly avoided the sack in 2014, after sending an inappropriate text message to Wallabies staff member Di Patston, while Ashley-Cooper was one of six players banned for the 2013 Test against Scotland because of a midweek drinking session. The 34-year-old has only just returned to the Australia set-up, having made his first appearance last weekend in more than two years.
Cheika was adamant yesterday neither player would have been guaranteed selection but only 24 hours previously had claimed Beale’s omission was purely down to form. “Obviously there is disappointment – and they are disappointed too,” added Cheika. “It’s a small error of judgment. If we want to compete with the best, all the small shortcuts have to be gone, on and off the field. Some might consider it a bit too harsh [but] the leaders showed a lot of courage coming to me because they want to set a standard. [Beale and Ashley-Cooper] were very apologetic, they realised their error and they have been trying to help the other players get ready for the game.
“This is equivalent to someone being late or missing a curfew. Then the punishment has been dealt down. If anything it’s a team that has got clarity on where it wants to go.”