Wallabies coach Michael Cheika admits his team are “coming from well back” as their World Cup preparations officially ramp up with their opening Rugby Championship clash against South Africa in Johannesburg.
After a horror record last year, Cheika is looking for the Wallabies to win at Ellis Park on Saturday to start a repeat of their 2015 winning run, which launched them all the way into the World Cup final.
Cheika said he had belief they could go all the way.
“We’ve got to earn everything this season – we know a lot of people aren’t giving us much chance but I believe in our players,” Cheika said
“Anyone who goes out there in our jersey is going to do whatever it takes to earn what we get this year.
“We know that we are coming from well back … we’ve spoken about what we need to do this year to earn respect and earn our right to achieve what we want to achieve.”
The Johannesburg match is a juggling act for the Australians, who want to build that winning momentum and still give players the chance to push their case to be on the plane to Japan in September.
Among the selections Cheika has given Fijian-born back-rower Isi Naisarani his Test debut, recalled veteran prop James Slipper after a cocaine ban, and handed UK-based halfback Nic White his first Test cap in four years with a start ahead of regular No.9 Will Genia.
“It’s a big occasion so we want to pick a good team for it,” Cheika said.
“It’s based on what we need from this game and what we’d like to achieve from this game.”
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus has effectively chosen a B team, sending stars such as five-eighth Handre Pollard, back-rower Duane Vermeulen and hooker Malcolm Marx on to New Zealand to prepare for their round-two clash with the All Blacks.
Cheika said he didn’t feel disrespected by the move and said the Springboks selection was “irrelevant”.
“I don’t see it that way,” he said.
“We’ve heard their players say they aren’t taking this game for granted and we take them on their word for that.”
Australia are seeking a first win on South African soil in eight years and a first victory at the famously hostile Ellis Park since 1963 – their sole result from 10 visits
Their last match there in 2008 ended with a record 53-8 loss.
But Cheika welcomed the challenge.
“That’s what I enjoy – to be in the cauldron of the opposition – it’s motivating for us,” he said.
“What else could you ask for in terms of an intimidating atmosphere? It’s a good challenge and we must stand up. This is what rugby is about.”
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.