Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell is “not happy” at being axed but that’s just how no-nonsense NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika wants it after ringing the changes for the Super Rugby clash with the Cheetahs on Friday night.
Cheika on Wednesday made six personnel and two positional changes from the side thrashed 35-6 by the Brumbies on Saturday, with Mitchell and Test prop Sekope Kepu the highest-profile casualties.
Mitchell and Kepu were both omitted from the match-day 22 altogether, with Cheika saying there was no room for under-performing stars as the Waratahs sought to avoid a third loss from four starts this campaign.
“I want guys to fulfil their potential,” Cheika told AAP.
“Maybe I judge those guys at a higher standard. I don’t think they’ve been playing poorly, but I think they’ve got more potential to achieve and I really want guys to play to the best of their ability at their own level.
“That’s very important to me.”
Cheika said he had a two-part “private conversation” with Mitchell before and after axing the 60-Test winger to explain exactly where the 28-year-old needed to improve.
“He’s not happy, obviously. But I want them to be not happy. I want them to care about playing,” Cheika said.
“He’s a quality player and I back him to organise himself so he’s right to come back and fulfil his potential and perform.”
The first-year Super Rugby coach said Kepu was in the same boat.
“He’s got a lot on his mind as well. His wife’s about to have a baby, but he’s a weapon and I want him to be a weapon for the team,” Cheika said.
“I know he’s playing for Australia and all that, but he can be so much better. We need to be getting the guys who are playing for Australia to be of the quality of being picked in the World XV.
“That’s when we know we’re in good shape. I believe Keps can be that type of player.”
With Mitchell gone and new utility Ben Volavola relegated to the bench, Lachie Turner and Peter Betham have been promoted to form a new starting wing combination and marquee signing Israel Folau reverts to fullback.
Wallabies utility Berrick Barnes makes his first appearance of the season, returning from a knee injury at inside centre at the expense of Tom Carter and giving the Waratahs another playmaking option.
“I’m keen to get back out there,” Barnes said.
“I’d be lying if I said I was 100 per cent, but I’m improving each week and I feel this week I can at least make some sort of contribution and I’m confident.”
In the forwards, Paddy Ryan replaces Kepu as tighthead, while Pat McCutcheon returns to the starting team at No.8, allowing skipper Dave Dennis to revert to his preferred position on the blindside flank.
Reserve hooker John Ulugia takes over from injured Wallaby Tatafu Polota-Nau.