Australia coach plays down first-test loss against England

Australia coach plays down first-test loss against England

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 4:07 p.m. ET

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Crisis, what crisis? Australia coach Michael Cheika said losing to England 39-28 in the first rugby test last weekend in Brisbane did not put his team in as ''desperate'' a situation as rival coach Eddie Jones made out.

''Desperate ... why, because we lost the first game?'' Cheika asked ahead of Saturday's second match at Melbourne.

''Losing's part of life sometimes, that's the way it is. You can't have a gold pathway all the way through ... sometimes it's tough, you've got to be in a scrap, and that's when you get the most character built.''

This week after an England practice, Jones said: ''We want to win this series and we have got an opportunity, so we will be even more desperate than the Australians.''


On Thursday, Jones made two team changes, handing starts to flyhalf George Ford and winger Jack Nowell. Owen Farrell shifted to inside center to accommodate Ford, while Nowell replaced Marland Yarde, who dropped out of the squad.

''It's a 23 that suits the way we want to play ... George and Owen playing together gives us two great kicking options, and Jack is a high work-rate player,'' Jones said.

Cheika made four changes to his starting side, including a new-look front row where Sekope Kepu and James Slipper join captain and hooker Stephen Moore.

Cheika also didn't replace David Pocock, who has an injured left eye socket, with a traditional No. 8, instead handing Melbourne Rebels flanker Sean McMahon a start.

''We weren't good enough last week, clear and simple,'' Cheika said. ''Me, personally, I love being in this situation. I know that sounds a bit crazy, but you're one down, you're in a scrap and I want my players to enjoy that too.''

Cheika also said he has no plans to meet with referee Craig Joubert before the test despite being hit by a lopsided penalty count in the series opener. The Wallabies struggled with French referee Romain Poite's interpretations at the scrum and the breakdown in Brisbane, and were penalized 15 times to England's eight.

Australian media reported Jones met with Poite before the first test and will do so again with Joubert this week.

''I don't (meet with referees) very often so I wouldn't know (about the reports),'' Cheika said.

He added he will rely on Joubert to be on the lookout for what the coach described as England's ''niggle'' tactics.

Ford disputed claims that his side couldn't play expansive, free-flowing rugby, and that characterization of England as a team that was ponderous was false.

''We want to be a team that can threaten all over the field,'' Ford said. ''We want to pride our play on a dominant set-piece and get that bit and the fundamentals right, a good defense, lots of energy and communication. But of course we want to be dangerous in attack as well. We can definitely play that way, too, if we need to.''

Forward Chris Robshaw will gain his 50th England cap, having made his debut against Argentina in 2009.

''We weren't satisfied with last weekend's performance and we know there's lots to improve on, particularly aspects of our defense and breakdown work,'' Jones said.

The teams play a third test on June 25 in Sydney.



Australia: 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 (captain), James Slipper. Reserves (three to be omitted): Tatafu Polota-Nau, Toby Smith, Greg Holmes, Dean Mumm, James Horwill, Ben McCalman, Liam Gill, Wycliff Palu, 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 (captain), Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Jamie George, Matt Mullan, Paul Hill, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Jack Clifford, Danny Care, Elliot Daly.