Wallabies halves under the pump

The victorious Wallabies appear likely to field new starting halves in Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup decider, with the struggling incumbents under siege from dynamic bench duo Nic White and Matt Toomua.


It would usually be unthinkable to make unforced changes for such a big match in a team that has just secured its first win over the All Blacks since 2011, clinching the 2015 Rugby Championship.

But so badly did rattled halfback Nick Phipps struggle that it would take an enormous act of faith from coach Michael Cheika to retain him for the clash at Auckland’s daunting Eden Park, where the Wallabies have not won in 29 years.

His off night, including wildly-directed passes and a brain snap which sent him to the sin bin – never to return as he was subbed for White – may also have World Cup ramifications, with Will Genia also in the halfback frame.

Phipps’ Waratahs halves partner Bernard Foley also had an indifferent night and they were outshone by Brumbies White and Toomua who were instrumental in securing Saturday night’s 27-19 win at ANZ Stadium.

White scored a clever late try and kicked a long-range penalty, while Toomua set up Adam Ashley-Cooper’s five-pointer with a deft kick in a strong performance at five-eighth off the bench.

Most of Cheika’s other selections came up trumps, including starting loose forward fliers David Pocock and Michael Hooper in tandem among a new-look pack, as Australia won the breakdown battle and shocked the All Blacks by dominating the scrums.

Other than the halves, the main area of concern for Cheika was the lineout, which was without injured No.1 leaper Rob Simmons, and there’s work or changes needed there.

As uplifting as the victory was, there is no escaping the magnitude of the task this week to be a chastened and hurting All Blacks team on their spiritual home ground.

Should coach Cheika field an unchanged run-on side for the Eden Park clash, the Wallabies will have seven players who weren’t even born the last time Australia beat the All Blacks there.

Veteran winger Ashley-Cooper has played seven times at the venue since 2007 and knows what to expect as the Wallabies aim to break their 13-year Bledisloe drought and break their Eden Park hoodoo.

“They are a totally different beast over there and I’ve encountered that previously. The challenge is going to be extremely harder,” Ashley-Cooper said.

The Wallabies have just four wins from their past 25 Tests at the famous ground, having not won there since 1986.

Just last year, they were trounced 51-20 at Eden Park as the All Blacks came out fired up following a 12-all draw a week earlier in Sydney.

“They’ll want to come back rectify the loss that they encountered,” said Ashley-Cooper.

“They draw a lot of energy and a lot of inspiration out of that home support.

“It’s like us here at ANZ Stadium. Hopefully we can get past that. We are going to be over there feeling quite alone next week up against a pretty hungry Kiwi team.”

Ashley-Cooper, who has scored more tries (nine) against New Zealand than any Wallaby in history, was full of praise for the squad’s elder statesman and the roles they played in Saturday’s win.

“Having the likes of Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau out there and James Horwill and guys like David Pocock that have played Tests against the Kiwis before certainly helped the group,” he said.

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