Australian coach Michael Cheika has made just one change to the team that thrashed Wales last weekend for tomorrow’s autumn Test against Scotland which means that David Pocock has recovered from his head knock while Will Genia returns to the No 9 shirt that he wore throughout the Rugby Championship.
As a result Nick Phipps drops to the bench, from where he hopes to join starting full-back Israel Folau in collecting his 50th cap.
“Going into a tour like this where every match is paramount you need a good balance between getting some new things happening and also trying to stay to a formula,” said Cheika by way of explanation.
“We only got to play that back row, for example, for half the game last week so I am just keen to have a bit more of a look at that combination. I think the two locks warranted another opportunity, they have been working well together, and I have been happy with the back line.
“We have moved around a lot this year, I have been selecting different players at different times and I just think that towards the end of the year this is an opportunity to play two games in a row with the same team.”
Where he has made changes is in a formidable bench which holds the likes of Dean Mumm and the giant Will Skelton who is a little less of a man than he used to be. Cheika revealed that a 10kgs weight loss has added hugely to the big lock’s performance.
And the fact that the Aussies have opted for a 6/2 split, six forwards, two backs, tells you where they expect this match to be won and lost, even though it is a calculated risk with Quade Cooper the only outside back on the bench.
“There are still plenty of backs on the field,” Cheika said, “I don’t see why it can’t be a flashy game it’s just that Scotland have a big powerful pack and we probably picked a slightly smaller pack initially so we have the ability to change if we want to.”
Both teams have selected twin openside flankers and both sides pose threats across the back so there is every reason to expect a high scoring spectacle come tomorrow afternoon although the bookies, and pretty much everyone else outside of the Scotland squad, favour the visitors at BT Murrayfield.
Whereas Australian teams of old were perhaps vulnerable at the set piece, and Ian McGeechan suggested something similar in recent days, this one looks to have the whip hand certainly come scrum time. The 20-year-old tighthead Zander Fagerson has exactly 12 minutes of international rugby under his belt and he is the more experienced of Scotland’s two starting props.
Their opposite numbers, Scott Sio and Sekope Kepu, share 100 caps exactly and even centurion Ross Ford is second to Stephen Moore’s 113 caps. Cheika claimed to know almost nothing about the Scotland team.
“I haven’t seen their team so I don’t know,” he claimed when quizzed about the Scottish front row. “Obviously I know that Nel is injured and he has been a very good scrummager. I know that they [Scotland] will treasure that part of the game and there is no way that they are picking anyone who isn’t ready for it no matter who they have selected. They wouldn’t be putting them out there if they didn’t think they were ready.”
Let’s hope that Allan Dell agrees.
Despite knowing little enough about the team Cheika talked up the Scotland threat and insisted that his players had reset to zero after that win in Wales. The Wallaby coach reminded everyone that two years ago Australia beat Wales only to come unstuck one week later in Paris.
“In my role in the team I don’t watch a lot of the opposition, that’s for the other coaches, they do a lot of that. What I do know is that in Vern Cotter and Nathan Hines who I know very well, their defence will be tail up, they will be prepared very well with a good strategy, with good players and it’s going to be the toughest game that we will encounter.”
If Cheika doesn’t watch the opposition he assured us that the players would have done due diligence so when Skelton and No 8 Lopeti Timani were wheeled out one Scottish journalist was determined to get a line on the home threat. Had Skelton ever played Scotland, perhaps at age grade?
“No never,” the lock replied. “I think we’ve watched Braveheart a few times, it’s a pretty good movie.”
“Same with me. Braveheart is a nice movie though.”