Under-fire head coach Michael Cheika says he will continue to back his team’s defensive structures after the Wallabies’ ignominious 54-34 defeat to New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.
In a wretched Wallabies’ showing panned by Wallaby great Michael Lynagh as having “non-existent” skills, the Australians leaked eight tries, six in the first half, to go down to the world champions by a record Bledisloe Cup Test score.
It was a point-a-minute first half that killed off the tackle-shy Wallabies and all but ended their meagre hopes of winning back the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2003.
The inept performance before the smallest crowd (54,846) for a Bledisloe Cup Test at Sydney’s Olympic stadium builds more pressure on Cheika following the Wallabies’ 16th loss in his 35 Tests as coach.
But Cheika, while critical of his team’s tackling — 37 missed tackles in the first half alone — backed his newly-appointed defensive coach Nathan Grey and said the Wallabies’ problems stemmed from indecision.
“It’s not attitude. It’s maybe that little bit of doubt creeps in,” Cheika told reporters after Saturday’s loss.
“When something goes against you early — and we’ve been preparing a certain way — if it creeps in, a little bit of doubt, that causes some of the problems.”
Asked if he would persist with Grey and his defensive structures, Cheika said: “One hundred percent … one hundred percent.”
While the Wallabies removed the threat of a record losing margin of 37 points to the All Blacks with four consolation tries, the reality is that New Zealand led 54-6 with 30 minutes to go before easing off.
“It was pretty plain to see that our defence wasn’t good enough, at all,” said Cheika.
“The adherence to the way we wanted to defend plus the tackling in itself. It’s got to be better. The first part of the game is not the level you can be at in any game, let alone a game against them.”
Skipper Michael Hooper admitted the Wallabies couldn’t live with the pace and accuracy of the New Zealanders in the opening exchanges.
“At 50 points down, we had to believe in ourselves,” he said.
“Some guys really stood up to the challenge. But it was a new defensive system and against a quality team we struggled. We’ll be looking to rectify that.”
The landslide loss could not have come at a worse time for the beleaguered sport of rugby union in Australia.
The Wallabies suffered a shock home loss to Scotland in June and endured a dreadful Super Rugby season where Australian sides lost all 26 of their matches against Kiwi opposition.
A season of problems on and off the pitch culminated with the contentious axing of Perth’s Western Force from Super Rugby this month.
The All Blacks will hold on to the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup for a 15th straight year if they win again on Saturday in Dunedin where they have only lost once to Australia in 12 encounters.
Australian rugby legend Lynagh was scathing in his condemnation of the Wallabies’ performance while commentating on the match for Sky Sports in Britain.
“I can’t overestimate how angry I am at seeing an Australian team who have skills that are non-existent,” said Australia’s 1991 World Cup-winning fly-half.
“Passing and catching and making tackles and trusting the bloke beside you are pretty basic even at schoolboy level.”
The world champion New Zealanders put the Wallabies to the sword.