August 21, 2017 / 8:51 AM / a year ago

Grey stonewalls calls for Wallabies defensive overhaul

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia assistant coach Nathan Grey has dismissed any need to review the team’s defence playbook amid calls for him to be sacked in the wake of their 54-34 thrashing by New Zealand in the Rugby Championship opener on Saturday.

The Wallabies shipped eight tries to trail 54-6 after 50 minutes in Sydney, leaving former players raging over the team’s weak tackling and sieve-like defence.

Angry fans continued to vent their fury on social media on Monday, while pundits demanded Grey’s dismissal ahead of the return match against the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday.

However, after a “tough” team review session, defence coach Grey said the Wallabies’ shambolic performance in the first half was down to the players losing trust in each other and failing to execute the game-plan.

“I think that was reflected in the game,” he told reporters in Dunedin on Monday.

“We had a good look at it and really believe that the way we were trying to do things and the way we are trying to do things is going to be really positive for us.

“And when we get that right and everyone executes we can get the results that we are looking for.

“Having that trust in what we wanted to do and trying to put them under pressure defensively, and we weren’t able to do that consistently.

“And at this level if you’re off five percent teams are going to make you pay.”

Grey was backed “100 percent” after the game by coach Michael Cheika, his former boss at the New South Wales Waratahs.

The pair combined to guide the Super Rugby side to the 2014 title, conceding the fewest points in the competition along the way.

However, Grey has been under pressure after a terrible season for the Waratahs, who shipped more than 40 points in seven games of the 15-match regular season to finish second-bottom of the Australian conference.

He stepped down as Waratahs defence coach last month to concentrate full-time on his Australia role.

With only the ACT Brumbies reaching the Super Rugby playoffs and then losing their quarter-final in the opening weekend, the Wallabies had plenty of time to hone their defence at training camps before the Rugby Championship.

They have had less game-time to build combinations, with Cheika making raft of personnel changes throughout the June fixtures against Fiji, Scotland and Italy.

Saturday’s team had five changes from the starting side that fended off Italy and winger Henry Speight suggested the players were yet to have full confidence in their combinations.

“I think it’s just being our first hit out and having not played in a while. Everyone was just a bit hesitant,” Speight told reporters.

“We replicated (the defence pattern) a lot at training but the pressure of the game is quite unique. We’ll certainly be better for the run but that’s certainly not an excuse at all.”

There is likely to be at least one change for Dunedin, with winger Dane Haylett-Petty available for selection after missing the Sydney test due to injury.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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