SYDNEY (Reuters) - Michael Cheika is looking for an attitude change rather than a personnel overhaul ahead of the return test against New Zealand but it is hard to imagine the Wallabies coach naming the same side on Thursday after the Sydney humiliation.
Australian rugby, already reeling after a miserable Super Rugby season and the chaos surrounding the cull of the Western Force, hit a new nadir when the All Blacks racked up 54 points in the opening 48 minutes of last Saturday’s test in Sydney.
With the World Cup in Japan a little more than two years away, though, the temptation for Cheika to stick to his selectorial guns for Saturday’s match in Dunedin must be strong even after the crushing 54-34 defeat.
After chopping and changing his line-up for almost every match and doling out 20 first caps since the 2015 World Cup final, Cheika knows he needs to start giving his combinations some time to bed in before 2019.
The defensive chaos in Sydney is sure to result in some tweaks in the backline, however, otherwise Cheika risks a second humiliation that might even start to threaten his own position.
Dane Haylett-Petty would probably have started last weekend had he not still been recovering from a biceps problem and he will almost certainly come in for Curtis Rona on the left wing.
A midfield that resembled a revolving door for the All Blacks at times in the Rugby Championship opener is also likely to be altered with Tevita Kuridrani coming in for Samu Kerevi at outside centre, as he did in the second half in Sydney.
Kurtley Beale’s attacking threat should save him from the chop but it would be wishful thinking to believe the All Blacks will not be targeting the inside centre and the almost as slight Bernard Foley at flyhalf.
The back row is another area where Cheika might make changes with the inexperienced blindside flanker Ned Hanigan all but disappearing amid last Saturday’s carnage.
Lopeti Timani is only marginally more experienced but would bring a little more heft to the back row and, if played at number eight, allow Cheika to retain the energy of Sean McMahon in the number six shirt.
Cheika described Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau as being like “one hooker” last week but the impact the latter had off the bench in Sydney might mean the former wins his 122nd cap as a replacement in Dunedin.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien