Michael Cheika denies compromising the Wallabies’ lineout with the surprise selection of Ben McCalman for Saturday night’s Rugby Championship clash with the All Blacks.
McCalman’s inclusion as blindside flanker – not his specialist position – comes at the expense of the ever dependable Scott Fardy and leaves Australia’s back row short of genuine jumpers.
Fardy secured an equal-best 12 lineout throws for the Wallabies during last year’s tournament and, at 198cm, gave the back row important height to complement shorter ball-pilfering dynamos Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
At 192cm, McCalman brings a different skill set, chiefly strength and mongrel, and Cheika has no doubts the rugged performer will step up at the set piece too.
“Ben’s performed really well in the lineout,” the coach said.
“We’ve been working on a few things there and he’s shown his quality there and we know that New Zealand are the best lineout defenders in the game.
“So we’re going to have to be on our money tactically in what we do there and then each one in his role, Ben included, when the game’s on in the heat of battle, really clear on what their job is inside of our lineout.”
Cheika admits McCalman will likely pack down at the back of the scrum “sometimes” to allow Pocock, picked again at No.8 to accommodate fellow openside specialist Hooper, to serve as a second flanker.
“They’re pretty interchangeable now, the three lads. They can all play in the different spots and we’ll probably have a few variations of where everyone stands,” Cheika said.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen acknowledged the importance of the set piece as attacking platforms, but said he understood the Wallabies’ reasoning for selecting McCalman over Fardy.
“They’ve substituted their height for breakdown tenacity, I guess, and that’s not the first time they’ve done it,” he said.
“It’s a trick they’ve played numerous times now since probably a year ago, and it’s worked for them.
“So it’s risk versus reward, isn’t it. Obviously in their minds they believe the risk is worth the rewards they’ll get for it.”
The world champions have their own set-piece issues in the absence of injured hooker Dane Coles, who threw a perfect 11 from 11 into the New Zealand lineout during last year’s Rugby Championship.