Michael Cheika has had a pretty smooth ride at the helm of the Wallabies – until now.
Pressure is mounting on the Australian coach and his players as they attempt to avoid Cook Cup disaster against England on Saturday night.
Defeat in the second Test at AAMI Park would create unwanted history, giving England their first series win in Australia and setting up the possibility of a whitewash in Sydney next weekend.
It would also represent the first real speedbump for the Wallabies under Cheika’s watch, following the dream run to last year’s World Cup final in his first year.
Cheika has so far been outfoxed in this series by his counterpart, the wily and experienced Eddie Jones, who won the tactical battle in Brisbane last weekend and continues to send cheeky jabs at his former Randwick teammate on an almost daily basis.
But if the magnitude of the situation was getting to him, Cheika was doing a great job of hiding it.
“I think I’ve said it many times before – there’s no need to feel pressure in this game. There’s real serious things going on out there (in the world),” he said on Friday.
“Of course we want to bounce back. It hurts losing. It hurts a lot. There’s no brushing that away and that pain still sits inside you.
“That’s usually what drives you.”
There is no question the Wallabies will be driven partly by desire to ensure the popular Cheika does not face another week of scrutiny at the hands of Jones and his team.
Cheika is something of a risk-taker but he has made two of the biggest gambles of his coaching career.
The first was choosing 21-year-old firebrand Sean McMahon to replace the injured David Pocock out of position at No.8, hopeful his aggression, ball-running and workrate will make up for the 26kg he gives away to his direct opponent, England’s Billy Vunipola.
The second was dumping experienced starting second-rower and lineout caller Rob Simmons, who Cheika revealed was left out of the side because of performance – not his first Test lower back injury.
It means the Wallabies will rely on his replacement, Sam Carter, and his Brumbies teammates Rory Arnold and Stephen Moore to sort lineout issues after England edged them in the series opener.
“It’s interesting that they’ve gone for a Brumbies lineout,” a smirking Jones said.
“They obviously feel they can fix their lineout problems with the Brumbies running it so we’ll wait and see how that eventuates.”
The inclusion of McMahon and prop Sekope Kepu, both terrific ball runners, is a further sign that Cheika believes his team can beat England with a high-paced game, as they looked likely to do in the first half in Brisbane.
England stifled their free-flowing style last weekend with a game largely reliant on points from penalties and set-piece superiority, and few in Camp Wallaby expect anything to change from them in that regard.
Unlike last week, Cheika has opted for a 5-3 split on his bench, a move intended to give them more coverage in the backline and one that could see utility Luke Morahan win his first cap since 2012.
Wallabies: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), James Slipper. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Toby Smith, Greg Holmes, Dean Mumm, Ben McCalman, Nick Frisby, Christian Lealiifano, Luke Morahan.
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, George Ford, Ben Youngs, Billy Vunipola, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (c), Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Jamie George, Matt Mullan, Paul Hill, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Jack Clifford, Danny Care, Elliot Daly.
AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND – History by the numbers:
* Overall: Australia 25, England 19, drawn 1
* In Australia: Australia 14, England 4
* In Melbourne: Australia 1, England 1
* Last week: England bt Australia 39-28 at Suncorp Stadium, Jun 11 2016
* Last time in Melbourne: Australia bt England 48-18 at Colonial Stadium, Jun 17 2006