MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia can still challenge the All Blacks this season despite the nation’s abysmal record against New Zealand teams in Super Rugby, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has said.
The five Australian sides have lost all 17 Super Rugby matches against their New Zealand counterparts and chances to break the drought are fast running out.
“I can understand why people might think it’s all doom and gloom -- a hundred per cent,” Cheika said in comments published by The Australian newspaper on Wednesday.
”But it’s not from my perspective.
”I know the Super Rugby form from our teams hasn’t been brilliant. No one can argue with that, but there’s been some good performances.
“We’ve been watching players individually in detail, not just the established guys but the new ones too, and there’s plenty to like.”
Cheika led the New South Wales Waratahs to the Super Rugby title in 2014 but it has been downhill for the Australian conference since, as New Zealand has gone from strength to strength.
Australia’s teams managed only three wins against New Zealand opponents in Super Rugby last year, which preceded the Wallabies’ 3-0 thrashing by the All Blacks in the annual Bledisloe Cup series.
New Zealand’s dominance has raised grave concerns about the state of the game in Australia, where Super Rugby coaches have backed calls for a national conclave to help halt the slump at provincial level.
The Wallabies were whitewashed 3-0 by Eddie Jones’s England in last year’s June internationals but face more modest opponents next month in Fiji, Scotland and Italy.
Cheika said he would use the matches to bed down a new generation of players that would carry through to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
“We started this last year and copped a bit of grief with our mixed results, about 50 per cent (winning record), but with the experience they’ve gained and a little bit of hardship, I think they’ll be better,” he said.
“I know people will say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’, but we’ve got a good bunch of young guys in this (World Cup) cycle. Now it’s all about creating that competition and putting the squeeze on the older, established guys.”
Cheika conceded there was a lot of work to be done before the Wallabies face the All Blacks in their Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney on Aug. 19, also the teams’ first match of the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship tournament.
“We have to change a few things, change attitudes and mindsets, but I still believe strongly in the guys we’ve got.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury