Wallabies under pressure to rebound from shocking loss
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Australia coach Michael Cheika is under considerable pressure to put one of the Wallabies' worst-ever defeats behind them and get ready for an immediate rematch with New Zealand in Saturday's Rugby Championships test.
Cheika has to find a way to rebuild the shattered confidence of a team that lost 42-8 to the All Blacks in Sydney last week – its most-lopsided loss on home soil in decades – and which has now lost its last five tests.
While Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver says Cheika's job is safe, critics – including many former players – have been eager to pile on this week.
In a stinging critique, former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock said he had little confidence Australia could turn things around in a matter of days.
''There's set piece issues, there's defense issues, there's breakdown issues, there's kicking issues … there's not many good things going on currently,'' Mortlock said.
Former Wallabies winger Clyde Rathbone was even harsher, saying the Wallabies were ''delusional'' if they thought they were good enough to beat the All Blacks.
''The truth is the All Blacks are a much better team than the Wallabies,'' he said.
Cheika has admitted he bungled the Wallabies' mental preparation for last weekend's test by needling the All Blacks at the start of the week, hoping to deflect pressure from his players but instead building expectations of their performance. The Wallabies then had one of their most insipid outings in recent years.
Cheika has recalled Quade Cooper at flyhalf for Saturday's test, which is a risk since Cooper has often appeared mentally fragile against the All Blacks and hostile New Zealand crowds.
''It's not about me against the All Blacks, it's the Wallabies against the All Blacks, Australia against New Zealand,'' Cooper said. ''So I'm not getting drawn into anything personal.
''I'm not coming over here thinking I need to do anything special to beat the All Blacks.''
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, meanwhile, has the task of maintaining his team's focus and pressing his players to replicate, if not improve, the standards of last week's performance, which gave them their 12th-straight test win.
The All Blacks haven't lost to the Wallabies in New Zealand in 18 tests going back to 2001, and haven't been beaten in any of their last 41 tests at home, a record stretching back to 2009.
If they win Saturday's test, the All Blacks will also clinch the three-match Bledisloe Cup series with a match to play, continuing their 13-year hold on the competition.
''We've got a big task in front of us,'' Hansen said. ''Australia are going to turn up and chuck the kitchen sink at us, I should imagine.
''They've had a big week over there with their own disappointment plus the media and their own fans having a crack at them, so we'd be foolish to think that they're not going to turn up and play really well.
''It's a massive concern because one of the hardest things to do is back up against a team you've beaten because two things happen – one, they're firm in their resolve to play better, and sometimes teams can relax and think the job's done.''
New Zealand has been forced into one lineup change for the match, drafting uncapped center Anton Lienert-Brown after losing four midfield backs to injuries.