Michael Cheika is reluctant to heed fresh calls to shift Israel Folau to the centres as the Wallabies travel to Wellington striving to arrest their worst losing streak in more than a decade.
The Wallabies haven’t won a match since Cheika was named world coach of the year last November, while Saturday night’s humiliating 42-8 loss to the All Blacks was Australia’s heaviest defeat on home soil in 113 years.
Cheika is taking full accountability for the World Cup finalists’ alarming fall from grace, but has also placed his under-performing troops on notice that none is safe from the axe as they regroup to face New Zealand again on Saturday.
“I’ll have a look at the whole team as far as the set-up’s concerned and once we’ve had a good review of the match, both today and tomorrow, give the opportunities to the players that want to stand up and put themselves on the line for Australia in Wellington,” said Cheika on Sunday.
Major strike weapon Folau had little opportunity or impact from fullback, prompting further calls to play him at outside centre where incumbent Tevita Kuridrani had a poor night and has failed to impress this season.
But Cheika indicated it was unlikely.
“He’d be an option, yeah. We’ll have a look at it,” said Cheika. “He’s always in the selection mix that way.
“But I’ve always seen Israel as in the fullback role and that’s been his main role and it’s probably somewhere I’d like to see him keep playing.”
Tournament-ending injuries Matt Giteau, who suffered a broken ankle in Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener, and Rob Horne, who likely requires a shoulder reconstruction, will likely force Cheika to at least find a new inside centre.
Matt Toomua, who replaced Giteau on a disastrous night at ANZ Stadium, must pass a series of concussion tests before being considered for the return bout in New Zealand, where the Wallabies must win for the first time in 15 years to keep their Bledisloe Cup hopes alive.
With Giteau and Toomua used as second playmakers, Cheika said Quade Cooper was a definite inside centre option, along with rookie Reece Hodge and fellow squad member Samu Kerevi.
Cheika has numerous other worries, including a horror tally of 38 missed tackles.
Blindside flanker Scott Fardy could gain a recall after surprisingly being relegated to the bench before the Wallabies lost five lineouts on their throw in Saturday’s drubbing.
Cheika accepted responsibility for not having the Wallabies in the right mindset but hoped the six-tries-to-one rout served as a wake-up call.
“There’s no better reality check on that than what happened yesterday,” he said after the Wallabies slumped to five straight Test losses for the first time since the 2005 team under Eddie Jones.
“We’ve got to keep building after last year … We got to a high point, which maybe a lot of people didn’t expect, including perhaps some of the players (who) didn’t understand the potential they could reach when they really dug in.
“Maybe they’re dealing with that, maybe they’re battling with that, getting back to that level, but they will.”
Cheika, though, is under no illusions as to what level is required immediately for the Wallabies to stop the All Blacks from retaining trans-Tasman bragging rights for a 14th straight year.
“We’re going to have to improve by 40 points if we want to do that in the turnaround,” he said.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do this week.”