Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is keeping at arms length from growing concern about the standard of Australian Super Rugby and unflattering comparisons with New Zealand teams.
After six rounds, only the Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels (both 4-2), have more wins than losses while the previously-dominant NSW Waratahs have stumbled to 2-3, the Western Force are 1-5 and the Queensland Reds have four losses and a draw.
However it’s the efforts against Kiwi sides in the new Australasian Group that are really ringing alarm bells, especially after Australian front-runners the Brumbies were outclassed in a 48-23 thrashing at home by the rampant Chiefs on Saturday night.
Australian sides have failed to win any of their past seven clashes against New Zealand opposition, tallying six losses and a draw since the Brumbies’ crushing round-one 52-10 home victory over the Hurricanes.
No longer doubling up as Waratahs coach this season, Cheika didn’t want to critique the five teams on Monday, preferring to focus on his own role as Test coach with a big international season looming.
“That seems to be the consensus that our teams are well behind their’s (New Zealand’s),” said Cheika.
“I think for me, I’m not looking at how a team performs. It’s their coaches’ responsibility to do that.
“I’m not here to be a pundit around `oh yeah, they are playing good’ or` they are not playing that good.’
“What I need to do is see who is going well within our teams, what combinations are going well, who needs to improve and trying to get the best at putting that together.
“One thing I know for sure is that, having been a coach of Super Rugby recently, I know how a team’s performance in that competition can ebb and flow and players can get in form and try to stay in form and go out of form.”
Cheika has been continuing to get his own message across to the players, bringing close to 50 together in Sydney on Monday for the second of three camps held after Super Rugby derby clashes.
He’s preparing them for a Wallabies’ season that includes a three-Test series against Six Nations champions England before tackling world champions New Zealand in pursuit of the Bledisloe Cup amid the four-nation Rugby Championship.
Cheika put a focus on mental toughness and mental preparation on Monday.
“I think the team has still got a lot of improvement in regards to not just how we play the game, but also how tough we are mentally,” Cheika said.
“Exploring some of that area is really important for me so that the team understands how to deal with difficult situations and get better at that.”