There was relief all round for Michael Cheika and his Wallabies after they secured their first win in seven test matches with a sometimes nervous win over S Africa in Brisbane on Saturday.
The achievement of reaching last year’s World Cup final had been all but forgotten in a barrage of criticism over the last few weeks after a 3-0 June series loss to England was followed by back-to-back defeats by the All Blacks. A seventh straight defeat would have matched Australia’s worst run in the professional era and heaped even more pressure on Cheika and his players.
The 23-17 win is unlikely to help much in their already ill-fated defence of the Rugby Championship title but a first win of the year could do wonders for the confidence of the team as they head to Perth to play Argentina.
“To give our fans a win at home for the first time at this season, we’re really pleased with that,” Cheika admitted. “Something to build on, it’s going to be a tough match against the Argies.”
As well as a first victory of 2016 for the Wallabies, it was a first win in the gold shirt for a string of Australians, including try-scoring lock Adam Coleman, impressive winger Reece Hodge, centre Samu Kerevi and prop Allan Ala’alatoa.
“I suppose it’s a bit of thing for us,” added Cheika. “We’re trying to get as seamless a change as possible with young players coming in. Guys with single digit test matches, there’s probably half a dozen of them. They’ve been looking for a win because they haven’t had the chance to sing the (victory) song yet but they’re standing up more and more with every match.”
Meanwhile All Blacks loose forward Sam Cane has been ruled out for up to six weeks with a hamstring injury, with Matt Todd brought into the squad as cover, coach Steve Hansen said last night. Cane, the long-time understudy to former captain Richie McCaw, was replaced just after halftime by rookie loose forward Ardie Savea during the All Blacks’ 57-22 Rugby Championship victory over Argentina in Hamilton on Saturday.
Hansen said after the match early indications were Cane would be out for six weeks as a worst case scenario, four weeks “at best”. The injury to Cane, who had smoothly slotted into the vacancy left by McCaw’s now retired boots, has opened the door for the dynamic Savea to start his first test after coming off the bench five times since his debut against Wales.
“He’s growing all the time. We had a good chat. He’s happy and everyone is happy with the progress but we know there’s things he can still do better,” Hansen said. “It’s the pace of the game. He’s a really explosive athlete so is he ready to play 80 minutes? “We’re not sure yet at that level but we’ll get a good 60 out of him and we know Matty can play as long as we need him.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved