Michael Cheika admits the Wallabies were towelled up last weekend but has backed his new-look forward pack to level their three-Test series against England.
Cheika has made four changes to his pack for Saturday’s must-win second Test at Melbourne’s AAMI Park, swapping both props and replacing the injured David Pocock (eye socket) with another makeshift No.8, Rebels flanker Sean McMahon.
The backline from the 39-28 defeat to England in Brisbane has been kept intact, but James Slipper and Sekope Kepu will start, lock Sam Carter is in for Rob Simmons (lower back) and Scott Sio has been dropped from the squad.
Cheika wouldn’t bite when asked if he agreed with former Wallaby identities Bob Dwyer and Phil Kearns, who this week criticised England prop Dan Cole for alleged illegal scrum tactics and put the pressure on Saturday’s referee Craig Joubert to adjudicate fairly.
But he said Sio’s axing was partly motivated by “perception” after what he described as a harsh yellow card in the first Test for repeated scrum infringements.
“Obviously, when your prop goes to the sin bin, there’s some type of perception there about what he’s doing or what is going on,” Cheika said.
“He’d only given away one penalty but I want to make sure there’s no perception about that at all.
“We’re just here to scrum square and hard and push as hard as we can. That’s what we’ll be doing.”
Kepu’s promotion means Greg Holmes is on an extended bench alongside Rebels prop Toby Smith, who is capped three times at Test level.
“I want to give opportunities to guys who have deserved it. Scotty had his chance last week, didn’t take it and now it’s Toby’s turn,” Cheika said.
Five-Test fetcher McMahon will give away a whopping 26kg on his direct opponent Billy Vunipola in what shapes as the biggest challenge yet of his burgeoning international career.
But Cheika said he “never considered” that would be an issue for him, in the belief his manic workrate would more than make up for the difference.
“He plays the game very physical. I don’t feel like he’s going to be dwarfed. I know the English No.8’s a big fella, but that’s how it rolls sometimes,” Cheika said.
“I believe in him a lot and what he brings and so do all the other players. I have no doubts when I put a player like that into the gold jersey.”
The inclusion of Carter, who will take over from Simmons as lineout caller, to join Brumbies teammate Rory Arnold in the second row ensures the Wallabies have some semblance of continuity in the set piece.
Cheika will narrow down his bench on Friday but says he will keep a five-three split, rather than the six forwards Australia had in Brisbane.
Wallabies: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), James Slipper. Res: (three to be omitted on Friday): Tatafu Polota-Nau, Toby Smith, Greg Holmes, Dean Mumm, James Horwill, Ben McCalman, Liam Gill, Wycliff Palu, Nick Frisby, Christian Lealiifano, Luke Morahan.