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Cheika doubles down in selection gamble

Michael Cheika. (AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU)
Roar Guru
15th June, 2016
14
1478 Reads

If ever there was a bold selection, the Wallabies side named on Wednesday 15 June 2016 is one.

Courageous. Innovative. Reckless. Premature. Maybe a combination of all of the above. Michael Cheika is all in.

Lose this weekend and the honeymoon is over.

It won’t matter that we all secretly wish we were best mates with an Argentinean scrum doctor and had punched well above our weight in just about every department of life.

It won’t matter that Cheika coaches for the love of the game after making a fortune selling women’s jeans. That all his players like him. That he’s just signed on to 2019.

No, sadly none of that will matter at all.

What will matter is that he’s lost a three-Test home series to England for the first time in forever. Worse than that, if that is possible, he will have lost to none other than Eddie Jones, perhaps the most polarising figure in Australian rugby.

The ramifications of the Wallabies losing this weekend should not be underestimated. Despite the Rugby World Cup campaign, Australian rugby is still fragile in every sense.

Financials aren’t great. Grass roots are unrooted. The U20s are going horribly. Super Rugby is farcical. And seedings are due out next year for Rugby World Cup 2019.

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All of that makes Cheika’s doubling down even more remarkable.

The question has to be asked – why on earth give Eddie so much time before Saturday to ponder the team sheet?

I like Cheika’s ‘let’s worry about ourselves’ approach but telegraphing the D-Day plans four days before the landing is a little hasty.

England already have been notified that Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani will be starting. Again.

The shock and awe of the first 15 minutes in Brisbane is a distant memory. England now know exactly what is coming in the midfield and have more time to prepare for it.

England also already know that James Slipper will be taking on Dan Cole. Funnily enough, Jones knows Slipper so well that that probably doesn’t really matter.

But again, why give Cole and Dylan Hartley any extra time at all to figure out how to bury another Aussie loose-head with the dark arts. There is no Plan C.

One selection that Jones probably doesn’t quite believe is the selection of Sean McMahon at No.8.

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Right now, Eddie must be thinking that the evil troika of Michael Cheika, Stephen Hoiles and Customs Australia are having him on.

Eddie’s interview tomorrow will almost certainly include “I know it says he’s starting at 8 but we’ll prepare as if he’s not.”

So has Michael Cheika got all this right?

In the midfield he does not have options. Matt Toomua is barely fit. Matt Giteau is not available. Karmichael Hunt is not properly prepared to start at 12.

Christian Lealiifano is not a Cheika favourite and arguably a very good ten but an average midfielder.

Going with the two massive Fijian boys who know each other from childhood in Brisbane is about the best combination available.

It is a gamble to expect the first 15 minutes of the Brisbane Test to happen again. But it is one worth taking.

I was as surprised as the next person to see Scott Sio dropped, not just from the 15 but from the entire extended team list.

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Romain Poite’s scrum interpretations last week were odd. This is especially given the game at Twickenham nine months ago where precisely the same two props were refereed by Poite with precisely the opposite outcome.

Still perception at scrum time is everything. Would Craig Joubert and Glen Jackson dare interpret things differently and contradict Poite while he stood on the touchline?

Mario Ledesma and Cheika obviously thought not and Slipper got the nod.

The selections at lock are harder to understand especially as Arnold was MIA most of last Saturday night. If Sio didn’t take his chance then how did Arnold?

The Brumby axis of Stephen Moore, Sam Carter, Arnold and Scott Fardy will add confidence and continuity to the Aussie lineout.

But Carter and Arnold run far too upright. Will that not just play into the hands of Haskell and Robshaw and slow us right down?

Perhaps we will see some more Brumbies style rolling mauls that open up space for Kerevi, Kuridrani and none other than Sean McMahon.

Like Rob Horne and Michael Hooper, McMahon is a Cheika favourite. All three have grunt, mongrel and ball carrying ability.

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Like it or not (and I like it) Horne and Hooper play key roles in the Wallaby system. Horne is pivotal in defence, Hooper carries and links.

I am yet to see what McMahon’s role is. We all know he is angry and committed. But playing him at eight against England in a must win series decider is more than slightly disquieting.

The bench is even more distressing, for me at least. Mumm’s selection in particular is a head scratcher especially as Horwill offers much of the same. Surely now was the time to have Skelton at least as an option in the final 26?

The risk versus reward for Cheika with these selections could not be starker. He is the type of guy who seems to thrive on that but he should not under estimate the back lash if the gamble doesn’t pay off.

Our trust was hard won at the Rugby World Cup. The problem is trust is easier lost.

Up until now Michael Cheika has been feted as the saviour of Aussie rugby.

If he has got it wrong this weekend the tide may just turn.