Australia’s Rugby World Cup campaign nearly came crashing down to huge underdogs Scotland because players had started to believe their own hype after dominating the so-called `Pool of Death’, coach Michael Cheika has admitted.
Cheika took ownership of Sunday’s near-terminal quarter-final slip-up at Twickenham where Wallabies’ blushes were only saved when five-eighth Bernard Foley coolly converted a controversial 80th-minute penalty.
After gaining the attention of their rivals, pundits, bookmakers and the media with consecutive impressive wins over England and Wales to round out an undefeated pool stage, Australia failed to properly turn their attention to Scotland.
The Wallabies were expected to easily account for the world No.9-ranked nation and Cheika admits the high praise during the pool phase may have gone to their heads.
However he refused to lay the blame at the feet of his players, taking the rap for the concentration lapses while vowing to not let it happen again leading into Sunday’s semi-final with Argentina at Twickenham.
“I’ve got to take a lot of the responsibility for the team not fulfilling its potential on Sunday,” Cheika said.
“I think I let the team think too much about the games before.
“They were still thinking about the game against Wales and game against England and I let that atmosphere stay.
“I don’t feel that I as a coach performed very well last week in preparing the team for that quarter-final, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again this week.”
Australia were down on many of the high standards they’d set during the pool stage – which included conceding tries from a chargedown, intercept and lazy ruck defence – but in particular Cheika felt they’d not paid due attention to the Scottish scrum and paid the price accordingly.
The Wallabies’ scrum, which had developed a reputation as a force to be reckoned with after dismantling England’s pack, conceded three penalties and failed to set the tone as Cheika and scrum doctor Mario Ledesma demand.
“We maybe went away from our way a little bit at times,” captain and hooker Stephen Moore admitted.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes. Not everything is always going to go your way.
“We need to work on that during the week because the scrum is no doubt one of the cornerstones of the Argentinian game and we need to make sure that functions well for us.”