Paris – BARNABY CHESTERMAN (AFP)
Australia coach Michael Cheika says he is not worried about conceding tries against France in the one-off international at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday.
In two matches since he took charge following the abrupt sacking of Ewen McKenzie, Cheika’s Wallabies have conceded nine tries.
However they won both games, defeating the Barbarians 40-36 at Twickenham before edging out Wales 33-28 in Cardiff.
Former Leinster and Stade Francais coach Cheika, still the head coach of Super Rugby champions Waratahs, says it will take time for his players to master his new defensive strategy so he is not worried about conceding tries.
“It’s absolutely normal for a team that’s had a change in system and also maybe it’s been difficult to get united as much because there has been so much going on,” said Cheika, whose only change to the Aussie team sees James Horwill come in for Sam Carter at lock.
“Defence is a real symbol of how close we are as a team, (whether we’re) prepared to tackle for each other.
“I know we’ve made mistakes and we’ve let in a few tries, and I know this is going to sound stupid but I’ve liked the way we’ve done it because we’ve been trying to go to the new system, which I’m not afraid to say is a more aggressive, more front-foot system.
“We’re going to make mistakes early, there’s no doubt about that. You can’t just say I’m going to change the defensive system and not have problems with it because it’s the 10 or 12 guys communicating with each other all the time and making live decisions.
“So I’m prepared to let a few in if it means getting our system better so that as we get to know each other and get to know the system it becomes really rock solid.”
Cheika has only been in the job three weeks and he says he has his hands full trying to impose his will on the side and doesn’t even have time to think about what his team’s opponents will do.
– Thomas danger –
“We’ve been really concentrating just on us at the moment. We’ve watched some tapes of the opposition but for us right now, only being two or three weeks into our own chapter here, the focus we have to put in is just on our game and hope that we have our game organised well enough and it’s powerful enough and skilful enough to give the opposition a lot to deal with so we don’t have to worry too much about their game.
“And I’m saying that with the utmost respect but I think we have to concentrate on ourselves, pick out the main threats of France, watch that on video and make sure we’re prepared.”
One such threat in an unchanged France side is Racing-Metro winger Teddy Thomas, who became only the second Frenchman in history to score a hat-trick of tries on his debut last week against Fiji. But Cheika, who played and coached in France, admits he doesn’t know much about the 21-year-old.
“He came to prominence after I left France (in 2012) so I haven’t seen a lot of him play but I know that one of the most valuable assets in rugby is pace, and it’s a very dangerous weapon.
“He has pace and we have to make sure he doesn’t have a chance to use it.”
France were whitewashed on their three-match tour to Australia in June, twice losing heavily and conceding almost 100 points over the three matches.
But No.8 Damian Chouly says France are desperate to make up for that.
“We need to be coherent. We’ve spoken about it a lot: we lost three matches over there in June and we came away frustrated and disappointed,” he said.
“There is a slight sense of revenge towards the Australians, of course, but mostly we need to take revenge against ourselves.”