The mind boggles at a head coach, together with his defensive coach, developing the erratic, complicated system the Wallabies employ, especially when you have players who are average defenders at the best of times.
The system has never worked for the Wallabies against the best sides in the game, or even rising sides like Scotland. It is also a system that All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster openly admitted they had planned to attack in last weekend’s 54-34 drubbing.
To even have any chance, slim or otherwise, of pulling Nathan Grey’s system off, you need the players with the skillset in defence first. The irony here is, if you had those players, you would not need to keep swapping them around all the time.
In the Rugby World Cup, players like Rob Horn and Adam Ashley-Cooper were very good defenders in first place, meaning the system did not need to be as ridiculously confusing as it is now. Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau and Tevita Kuridrani all have defensive issues. On the wings, the Wallabies had an inexperienced former league player in Curtis Rona, who missed three tackles, and Henry Speight, who has been in and out of the Wallabies through a series of injuries.
Who were Cheika and Grey relying on to organise the midfield defence? Where is the Wallabies’ Conrad Smith, Ryan Crotty, AB De Villiers, Brian O’Driscoll, or Owen Farrell? They need to find somebody to fill that role.
Cheika also has a dreadful history with revolving lock combinations.
During last year’s England series, Adam Coleman should have been one of the starting locks, not dropped from the squad altogether! Then, after a poor showing against England in the first Test, Coleman was suddenly redrafted back into the squad and eventually the starting line-up.
After much pressure and perhaps a wise up, Cheika selected Adam Coleman and Rory Arnold as Australia’s starting locks against the All Blacks last week. But no sooner had Australia’s possible future long-term locking combination started that Arnold was dropped to the bench.
He was not rampaging, but neither was Coleman. Arnold did lack a bit of physicality, and looked tired early, so perhaps that is the reason he has been dropped, but he is one of those players who gets better with game time. If he has a weakness, it is that he takes two strides too long to get going at Test level. Perhaps he should shed a handful of kilos?
Arnold should not be dropped from the starting side – the Wallabies need a strong, consistent locking combination.
But Cheika has again pulled back a player no longer in the squad, Rod Simmons, who has been done to death. Is Simmons now suddenly the answer against the world’s best locking combination when he never has been in the past?
In the back row, Ned Hannigan made the second-highest number of tackles, with eight, but he lacks a bit of physicality and he made three runs for absolutely no metres according to the stats. He is a good Test player in the making, but was blown off the park by his opposite number, Liam Squire.
Lopeti Timani looked good when he came on and seems to relish playing New Zealand. He is physical and a strong carrier, which makes Hannigan keeping his place puzzling. He made his tackles, but added little else to the game and a No.6 needs to be more versatile and physical – his hits were not high impact for Test level. Timani could have provided that needed impact.
Overall, Cheika too often looks like a headless chicken when it comes to selections. There are too many unsettled combinations for a side that already has defensive issues.
Something must give if things continue. Will it be Michael Cheika or Nathan Grey who gets moved on?