Australia have finished strongly in their Rugby Championship matches against South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand, with the timely insertion of fresh legs proving pivotal in all three games.
In the opener against the Springboks at Lang Park, David Pocock had a massive impact after replacing Scott Higginbotham at number eight as the Wallabies outscored their opponents 17-7 in the second half to snatch a come-from-behind victory.
Against Argentina in Mendoza, returning lock Dean Mumm sparked a stuttering Wallabies attack into gear when he came off the bench to score the first of three second-half tries.
It was White’s turn to grab the spotlight on Saturday with a long-range penalty and converted try late against the All Blacks at Sydney’s Olympic stadium, though utility Matt Toomua’s lively second half-cameo was almost as valuable.
“We have spoken about our finishers and the job they have to do and Nic White was given more time tonight based on the way he has performed in his training and he wanted to take that opportunity,” Cheika said of the 25-year-old ACT Brumbies scrumhalf.
“That’s what I want. I want guys to be putting their hands up and saying they want to be in this. That will help the competition for places in the squad.”
The Wallabies have rarely wanted for talented backs but new eligibility rules introduced by the Australian Rugby Union this year have given Cheika the luxury of depth.
The reinstatement of France-based backs Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell into the squad has meant leaving quality players like Toomua and Kurtley Beale cooling their heels on the bench before being launched as strike weapons later in the game.
Australia’s much-maligned forward pack has also benefited from Mumm’s return from England and lock Kane Douglas could yet add another second row option after coming home from Ireland.
The sparkling performances of some of the reserves has left Cheika with a selection headache as the Wallabies look to topple the All Blacks again at Eden Park on Saturday to secure the Bledisloe Cup, the annual trophy contested by the teams, for the first time since 2002.
Starting halves Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps failed to cement their places against the All Blacks, with scrumhalf Phipps enduring a poor night of wild passing that ended with a yellow card.
The pair will be feeling the heat after White and Toomua’s cameos against the All Blacks, while the possibility of seasoned scrumhalf Will Genia being available for the Eden Park clash after a knee injury adds further food for thought for Cheika.
Whichever team lines up, all 23 of the match-day squad will likely need to fire for the Wallabies to post a first win in nearly 30 years at the All Blacks’ fortress.
“They are a totally different beast over there and I’ve encountered that previously. The challenge is going to be extremely harder,” Wallabies back Adam Ashley-Cooper told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.
“They draw a lot of energy and a lot of inspiration out of that home support … 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.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)