AUSTRALIAN head coach Michael Cheika did not attend yesterday’s press conference to discuss his team selection for Saturday’s clash against Scotland. With a World Rugby instigated investigation into his comments and conduct during last weekend’s defeat to England ongoing, the perennially irritated Sydneysider decided to keep his powder dry on this occasion.
Team captain Michael Hooper and skills coach Mick Byrne fronted up to the media instead, and there was a clear emphasis on playing the charm card after Tuesday’s shenanigans over the team being barred from using the main pitch at Edinburgh University’s Peffermill facility following heavy rain.
“It has been a fantastic week. We’ve had a really enjoyable week. It has lived up to everything the guys expected and have experienced before,” said Hooper, with dead-pan delivery despite some sniggering from the assembled hacks.
“Look, it hasn’t been without it’s little, mini challenges – but that’s every week when you are an away team, and even when you are in Australia. So, it is nothing new for us and it was a really good deck we trained on today, so it was challenging on Tuesday but we’ve made a bit of enjoyment out of it,” he added.
Hooper was pressed on what had actually happened on Tuesday.
“Mate, we were just on one field, another field and different surfaces – but nothing unusual,” he replied.
He also stated that the controversy surrounding Cheika this week had not impacted the team.
“Not at all. Not at all. The guys don’t read too much into it and we’ve left it at that,” he said. “We’re focussing on the game. We’re focussing on this Saturday, and him more than anyone.”
Byrne, who had a period as kicking coach with Scotland between 2002 and 2005, echoed his captain’s comments.
“We came in and looked at our review on Monday, had a good look at what went on in the England game, then we got stuck into what we are going to do to prepare for this week, so for us it has been business as usual,” he said.
“As usual when you come here, the support has been magnificent for us. I’m obviously biased but I love coming here and doing our work. We just got stuck in on Tuesday as a coaching group, got our heads down and looked at getting ready for a team that beat us in June. We’ve got to get our preparation right this week.”
Byrne added that Scotland’s performance last weekend against the All Blacks had not surprised the Australian camp.
“Never. They’re a great team. They are well coached and they’ve been played great rugby for a couple of years, and watching them last week, running the All Blacks down to the last second, you could see the disappointment in their faces at the end – so we’re probably going to bear the brunt of that early on and we’ve got to be ready for them,” he replied.
“I coached Gregor and I know how he is, and also with Taxi – Matt Taylor – there, they are playing good rugby and they’re not going to die wondering as a rugby team, which is great. It’s the way Gregor played and he’s had a lot of success as a coach. We’re expecting them to come out and play a lot of rugby.”
“If you look at the games [between Scotland and Australia in recent years] the reason why they are close is that they are two good sides wanting to play rugby; and there’s an ebb and flow in the game. But we’ve developed a real resilience in our squad this year, there was chat about fitness but the boys have worked really hard and they’re going to be there in the 88th minute if it has to be that, and the Scottish boys are going to be the same. So, when the final siren goes on Saturday we’ll be happy where we’re in front.”
Hooper was then asked if he felt he felt hard done by in being yellow-carded against both Wales and England during the last fortnight, but he wasn’t taking the bait.
“I don’t think I’ve been targeted, no, I just think I’ve made a few errors there and come off the back of a few penalties, so I’ve got to clean up my game there,” he replied. “I hate being off the field, particularly in some big matches, and leaving the other boys to do some really tough work with 14 men, and with 13 men for a time last weekend, so nobody is hurting more than me in wanting to get the right.”
It was subsequently announced early yesterday evening that the disciplinary officer looking into Cheika’s case had decided that no further action was required, although he “urged Mr Cheika to be aware of the risks during matches when he knows he will be being filmed and potentially broadcast, and where possible to moderate his conduct and language accordingly.” A minor victory over the gremlins who have infested the game and are hell bent on neutralising any characters who might spook potential sponsors.
Former captain Stephen Moore has been recalled to the Australia side for Saturday’s match, which will be his final Test before retirement. The 34-year-old will win his 129th cap, 12 years after his debut against Samoa, and exactly 11 years since his first start, also against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Tatafu Polota-Nau drops to the bench, while flanker Ben McCalman also comes in to replace the injured Ned Hanigan.
Tonga-born Taniela Tupou -the Tongan Thor – could make his debut two days after becoming eligible.
Australia (v Scotland at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 25th November at 2.30pm): K Beale; M Koroibete, T Kuridrani, S Kerevi, R Hodge; B Foley, W Genia; S Sio, S Moore, S Kepu, R Simmons, B Enever, B McCalman, M Hooper©, S McMahon. Subs: T Polota-Nau, T Faulkner, T Tupou, L Tui, L Timani, N Phipps, K Hunt, H Speight.