A defiant Michael Cheika says the Wallabies absolutely deserve their place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, despite getting lucky in a game where he admits they started to believe their own hype.
He said Australia’s World Cup campaign nearly came crashing down to huge underdogs Scotland because players had taken too much of a hangover from dominating the so-called ‘pool of death’.
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 an 80th-minute penalty which on Monday was ruled by World Rugby to have been an incorrect decision.
But he rejected any notion they didn’t deserve to be lining up against Argentina on Sunday (0300 AEDT Monday) for a spot in the final.
“No, I don’t feel fortunate at all. In the game, we merited the win,” he said.
“We scored five tries in a quarter-final of the World Cup.
“I understand the romance of it all, and how that is easy to say.
“But we scored five tries, and gave away an intercept and a charge down which were poor decisions on our part.
“We weren’t at our absolute best but we weren’t at our worst either – we were in the middle.
“What I have said in the past is, in a tournament, you have to continue to improve.
“That game wasn’t an improvement on our previous games and that’s why we struggled.”
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 admitted the high praise during the pool phase might 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 the 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 charge down, 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.
“I thought we underperformed in the scrum. I think we can perform better,” Cheika said.
“Mentally, I just thought we were down there.
“Like I said, I think it comes back to my preparation of the team for the week.
“We were thinking too much about the past instead of focusing on that challenge that was in front of us.”