SYDNEY (Reuters) - Wallabies coach Michael Cheika believes Australian players are battling a perception that they are a “soft touch” and need to up their levels of aggression to alter it.
With New Zealand teams having run up a 39-match winning streak against Australian opponents in Super Rugby heading into the weekend, there has been plenty of soul-searching about what needs to change on the western shores of the Tasman Sea.
One suggestion made in local media was that Australian players were not as crafty in dealing with match officials as their New Zealand counterparts.
The theory was fuelled by the lack of on-field punishment for All Blacks prop Joe Moody for striking Kurtley Beale in the head when the Canterbury Crusaders came from 29 points down to beat the New South Wales Waratahs last weekend.
“Maybe there’s a bit of perception that we’re a soft touch,” Cheika said on Fox Sports.
“We’ve just got to fire up in games. It doesn’t matter about whether we’ve been hard done by or not, that’s the attitude we’ve got to have in all games.
“We’ve got to get fired up and get into it, not through any foul play but through aggression.”
“The Kiwi teams ... good on them, if that’s their thing, good on them, get into it,” he added. “We’ve got to have our own way of eliminating that perception that we’re a soft touch so we won’t get those penalties against us or those things won’t happen.”
Not only did Moody, who was subsequently banned for two weeks, escape on-field punishment for his assault on Beale, he almost immediately scored a try which helped the Crusaders battle back to win 31-29 in Christchurch.
Cheika said his former team could not blame the referee’s decisions for failing to break the winless streak against the reigning champions.
“You’re 29-0 up, you’ve got to go on and finish that,” he added.
The Queensland Reds have the next chance to end the streak against the Wellington Hurricanes on Friday, even if the Waratahs are probably a better chance to beat the Otago Highlanders at home on Saturday.
Cheika said Waratahs fullback Israel Folau remained very much in his plans for the June series against Ireland despite the controversy over his comments about homosexuality.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper, who has been frozen out at the Reds and is playing club rugby in Brisbane, would have to be playing Super Rugby if he wanted to add to his 70 test caps, the coach added.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Ian Ransom