Wallabies coach Michael Cheika won’t be spooked into making wholesale changes despite the stinging loss of David Pocock to injury and a concerning first Test defeat to England.
But Australia must find the answers to a set of new questions posed by Eddie Jones and the Red Rose ahead of the second Test at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on Saturday night.
Pocock’s fractured eye socket, which has ruled him out of action for the next six weeks, changes the complexion of the Cook Cup series entirely.
The Wallabies can now no longer rely on the World Cup ‘Pooper’ combination and must settle upon a new back-row to repel England’s James Haskell and Maro Itoje, who were dominant at the breakdown in the 39-28 win in Brisbane.
But unless injury also rules out Rob Simmons (lower back) or Rob Horne (concussion), Cheika says he probably won’t alter much more.
“Maybe the odd tweak here or there,” Cheika told reporters before departing for Melbourne.
“I’m not going to say I was happy obviously because you feel sick when you lose, especially a Test much in front of a great crowd at Suncorp, but there was a lot of things I thought went well.
“We’ve just got to make them go well for longer.”
Cheika says he’s undecided as to how to cover for the loss of Pocock – by either bringing in a more traditional No.8, like Wycliff Palu or Ben McCalman, or trying to shoehorn opensides Sean McMahon or Liam Gill into the mix.
“There’s options there that have experience in the frontline. We’re fortunate there, but at the same time disappointed to lose a player of David’s quality, the skills he brings to the game and that dynamic we have in the back-row with himself Michael (Hooper) and Scott (Fardy),” Cheika said.
Simmons and Horne were both forced off in the first half but travelled to Melbourne and will undergo testing during the week.
Meanwhile, critics rounded on Cheika’s decision to go with big-bodied centres Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani, instead of Christian Lealiifano at No.12, in the wake of England’s first-ever victory in Brisbane.
But Cheika said when it worked – as it did for the first 20 minutes, when the Wallabies surged out of the blocks before England began capitalising on their astonishing run of penalties – it worked well.
“I don’t think the backline shape is the issue at all,” he said.
“When Rob Horne was still on the field, I thought that set up went well as well.
“We could (go back), but even in that other system, we’re playing probably two playmakers but not a traditional ball player, in a slightly different way.
“The guys we had there in that formation, they made a lot of tackle breaks. It’s always a positive when guys are breaking tackles.”