September 17, 2017 / 6:00 AM / 9 months ago

Rugby-Wallabies back row still a work in progress for Cheika

CANBERRA, Sept 17 (Reuters) - The Wallabies back row remains a work in progress for coach Michael Cheika despite a bright second half performance from the loose forwards helping Australia to their first win of the Rugby Championship on Saturday.

Captain Michael Hooper, Sean McMahon and rookie Ned Hanigan combined for the fourth straight match and after being bullied by their Argentine opposites in the first half stepped up their intensity after halftime.

The result of their elevated efforts in the trenches was clearly evident on the scoreboard with the Wallabies running in five tries to one after the break to win 45-20.

“It’s been getting better as we get a little bit of consistency playing together,” said number eight McMahon.

“I think it’s been working well over the last couple of games and we just have to keep working towards getting better and better every week.”

Although quick and powerful, McMahon lacks the heft of a traditional number eight and is a continuation of Cheika’s policy of using the best talent at his disposal even if it does not fit naturally into the back row positions.

It was a policy he first used, reluctantly but successfully, at the 2015 World Cup when confronted with the problem of having world class openside flankers in Hooper and David Pocock but fewer options at number eight and blindside flanker.

That shortage has continued over the last two years with McMahon, also an openside flanker, the latest to fill in at the back of the scrum and 22-year-old Hanigan occupying the number six shirt for all seven tests this year.

Cheika, a hard-man number eight in his playing days at the famous Randwick club, is clearly still hankering for a player or two in his own mould to complement the skills of Hooper and Pocock, who will return next year after a sabbatical.

“Ned’s gone great, I want to start by saying that, he wasn’t even starting Super Rugby at the start of the year and he’s played (seven) tests,” Cheika said.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for that guy because at first I think he didn’t even know why he was in the team, and he’s stayed in.

“(But) it’s still a work in progress,” he added. “I think it’s been a good balance with Hanigan, more set piece style orientated, Sean a bit of that hybrid player and Michael on the openside.

“That looks good, it’s more about the competition. That the balance of the profiles of competition is right.

“I think (Adam) Korczyk is coming on nicely, I would look at having Lukhan Tui having a bit of a run there, he’s been practicising a bit and he might get a go if he makes it on tour.”

Korczyk, 22, has a similar build to Hanigan, while 20-year-old Tui is taller and heavier and usually plays in the second row at the Queensland Reds.

Cheika’s desire to bolster his stocks of loose forwards could also be related to McMahon’s decision to play in Japan for the next two years, rendering him ineligible for the Wallabies.

Editing by Peter Rutherford;

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