SYDNEY, Australia — Wallabies coach Michael Cheika remains “100 percent” behind defensive assistant Nathan Grey despite Australia’s shocking first-half defensive effort in their 54-34 Bledisloe Cup loss to New Zealand.
The Wallabies gave up six tries and a 40-6 halftime lead at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night, before they added some respectability to the scoreline with four five-pointers of their own after the break.
But it was a brittle defensive display that ensured the result was a fait accompli by halftime, the Wallabies falling off tackles and making poor decisions as the All Blacks ripped them apart through the middle, and created space out wide.
“I think it was pretty plain to see that our defence wasn’t good enough at all,” Cheika said. “But the adherence to the way we wanted to defend plus also the tackling in itself, it’s got to be better. That first part of the game is not the level that we can be at, at all. Not in any game, let alone a game against them.
“It’s not attitude. I think it’s maybe just that little bit of doubt creeps in. When something goes against you early, we’ve been preparing a certain way and it creeps in a little bit of doubt, will I go or will I hedge and that causes some of the problems.”
Trailing by 34 points at the break, the Wallabies looked set to suffer a record defeat given the ease at which the All Blacks had found the tryline in the first half. But to their credit, the Australians turned in a much more committed display in the second stanza, winning it 28-14.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen hailed his side’s first-half as “pretty special” but admitted they were seduced by the scoreboard after the break.
“We were all frustrated because we’ve come to expect a lot from these men and some of what we got in the last 30 minutes wasn’t where we want it to be,” Hansen said. “Everyone that was in the [coaching] box was frustrated; I’d say everyone that was on the park was frustrated.
“We just didn’t arrest the error rate and they just kept coming at us. So that’s another learning for a group that’s re-establishing itself and will give us something to really focus in on when we go to Dunedin and it won’t do us any harm. Had we gone on and won the game playing the way we were in the first half I don’t think that would have done us any good either.
“So every now and again you’ve got to sit back and accept that we played pretty good tonight, enjoy the moment for what it is and then tomorrow we’ll start getting back into it and trying to win again.”
While the Wallabies were significantly outclassed in the first 40, Cheika said wholesale changes were unlikely ahead of next week’s return clash in Dunedin. Backs Kurtley Beale, Samu Kerevi, Henry Speight and Curtis Rona contributed 16 of the Wallabies’ 30 missed tackles, with the wingers each missing five apiece.
“I don’t think that there’s going to be a lot of changes,” Cheika said. “The change has to be more about believing in ourselves to go up and make the hits when we need to, tracking well on the inside and making sure we’re coming up in defence and backing ourselves and not worrying about what the opposition might be doing out the back or out wide, playing exactly what’s in front of us defensively.”
Still, questions are likely to be asked of Grey who oversaw the Waratahs’ systems this season when the franchise finished with the third worst defensive record in Super Rugby.
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