Wallabies coach: Japan win shows teams can’t overlook anyone
Japan’s result proved how humbling the game can be, and how Tier Two teams were far more ambitious than previously
Japan’s sensational win over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup magnified the point to Australia coach Michael Cheika not to look beyond the next game.
Cheika is even trying not to look beyond today.
The Springboks picked their most experienced team ever, 880 caps worth, including seven 2007 Rugby World Cup champions, to play Japan but left out the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Fourie du Preez, Damian de Allende and Willie le Roux with an eye on future matches against Samoa and Scotland. Japan detonated the Boks’ planning on Saturday by winning 34-32 in the tournament’s biggest shock, and putting the two-time champions at risk of not making the quarterfinals.
“What we saw from (Japan’s win is) if you take your eye off the ball for a minute, you will get pounded,” Cheika said in Bath on Sunday. “I am certainly not going to take my eye off the ball.
“I’ve had a lot of advice from different Australian coaches and players involved in World Cups to really genuinely go a match at a time.
“I’ve gone to even more of an extreme and tried to go a day at a time. We’re trying to knock off each day and getting something from it.”
Japan’s result proved how humbling the game can be, and how Tier Two teams were far more ambitious than previously.
“It shows the great values that people have to have,” he said. “You’ve always got to have that readiness in rugby, because it’s a contact sport. It’s a game where the humble usually succeed, you know what I mean? In any one contest, you might go good in one scrum and then you might get pushed off in the next one.
“You’ve just got to be on all the time. All the teams who are coming here now, more often - from what I’ve seen over the progression of the tournament - are believing that they can win, as opposed to coming here just to participate.”
The Wallabies reportedly chose their side during the week for their tournament opener against Fiji on Wednesday at Cardiff, but won't reveal it until Monday. Australia has won 12 straight tests against Fiji, the last in 2010. Cheika said he doesn't have any expectations for a game they need to win well, even after England set a marker by beating Fiji last Friday with a valuable four-try bonus point.
“(Expectations) only lead to regret, more often than not,” he said. “I just want to see the team fulfil its potential, each individual player playing to his potential on the given day that we're preparing for.”
Cheika hasn’t been the Wallabies coach for a year yet. He was chosen just days before the team left Australia for their tour of Europe last November, after Ewen McKenzie suddenly resigned. He already had the respect of many of the players as the Super Rugby-winning coach of New South Wales, but the last-minute introduction was no help as Australia lost three out of four tests on that tour. With more time, Cheika’s back-to-basics approach has produced greater harmony and consistency as the Wallabies beat New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina to win the Rugby Championship.
“We just want to go out there and play like we’ve been playing, and go up a level with the nature of the competition,” he said. “To believe in ourselves is something we've had to rebuild, and something we’ve been low on in the last few years. The team has been kicked around a little bit, and they’ve got to get that self-belief.”