The All Blacks don’t think the Wallabies can beat them.
That’s the message from Wallabies coach Michael Cheika as mind games intensify ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney.
Cheika seized on a sniping remark from All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen on Monday, using it to underline his team’s underdog status as they attempt to end Australia’s 13-year Bledisloe Cup drought.
On arrival in Sydney, Hansen was told Cheika had suggested he faced some interesting All Blacks selection decisions and responded by saying Cheika had enough problems of his own to worry about.
“It’s pretty cool I suppose because that’s what they really think,” Cheika said.
“When they say we’ve got our own problems, that’s what they are referring to, the fact that we can’t we beat them.
“We know that they think we are no chance to do anything and they are validated. We haven’t beaten them for ages in the series, so it’s understandable that they would think that.
“We’re just going to have to work on how we’re going to do that.
“I know not many people are expecting us, as he isn’t, to do much but we’ll prepare our best this week and see how we go.
“We’ve been working hard for a few weeks to get ourselves together.
“We’ll just get our stuff together and do our absolute best when we get out there on Saturday night.”
Cheika said he had worked on building belief among the Wallabies since taking over the job in late 2014, but world champions New Zealand provided the ultimate test.
“We’ve come off the back I suppose of a fair few years of indifferent performances,” Cheika said.
“Over the last 18 months we’ve been trying to build it (belief) in not just the guys who are starting, but in the bigger group of players.
“When you are doing that you will come up against resistance some times or things that may not go right, but that doesn’t mean you stop, you’ve got to push through it.
“You need mental fortitude and there’s no better place to test mental fortitude than against New Zealand.”
Cheika said he was close to finalising his match 23 for Saturday and stressed his bench would play a vital role.
“They (New Zealand) start and finish halves so well, your finishers are extremely important in a match like this,” he said.
Cheika said the players had been working on their kicking with new national skills coach Mick Byrne, but ruled major short term variations in that area.
“The boys have worked a little bit with Mick on their kicking, but just in their standard stuff, the longer clearance kicking or the goal kicking, just so they are striking the ball better,” Cheika said.
“I think it will be difficult for us tactically to suddenly make that change into doing more of that, maybe in the longer term.”
Winger Drew Mitchell will train fully with the squad this week after recovering from groin surgery.
“I don’t think he’s behind the eight-ball (to play on Saturday), even though he’s been doing rehab he’s been working on his fitness as well,” Cheika said.