McKenzie keeps the faith for second Bledisloe
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie saw no reason to panic, despite the numbers that glared back at him on the scoreboard in Sydney last Saturday night.
So, despite a 47-29 thumping by the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship opener, McKenzie has made just one injury-enforced change to his team to face the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday night.
That sees abrasive Brumbies utility forward Scott Fardy replace the crocked Hugh McMenamin at blindside flanker, and Waratahs lock Kane Douglas coming on to the bench. The rest get a second bite at the cherry.
McKenzie said today he felt it was important not to be too knee-jerk about a result that was a lot more decisive on the scoreboard than it appeared on closer review, and that his players deserved another chance to show they're better than that final outcome at ANZ Stadium.
"We chose them all for a reason - they were in form," he said at the team's hotel today.
"Clearly we didn't get the performance we wanted. [But] there are a lot of things we can tidy up technically and we've retained faith that the guys, with a bit more preparation and more information around certain areas, will do better.
"They were chosen [initially] for a reason and those reasons haven't changed. But clearly we've got to get a better outcome.
"We've got to give a lot of credit to the All Blacks. They generate a lot of pressure on you, but it's how we respond to that and some of the mechanical processes weren't good enough."
But McKenzie also sent a strong message to his players that his faith in them is not blind faith.
"We're renovating a team," he said. "We had five guys on debut last week, but this is not a three-year project, we haven't got time to be messing around. We've got to aim up. We've got good players, and those good players have been rewarded because they've been performing.
"But if you have aspirations at test level, when you get a go you've got to take that opportunity. The train stops at this station and you've got to get on, otherwise it leaves. That's how it works."
The Wallabies coach admitted he'd pored over the tape of last week's game, and he found enough to be positive about, despite those depressing numbers on the scoreboard.
"It was 25-22 in the 51st minute, but the game is 80 minutes long. They finished strongly and that's disappointing, but we were very competitive up to that point. We were able to generate opportunities, set-piece pressure and we moved the ball in different ways and made line-breaks on first phase.
"A lot of detail gets lost in the scoreline ... all we can do is attend to the detail and do something about the scoreline next time we play."
McKenzie made it clear the "abrasive" Fardy, used mostly in the second row this year by the Brumbies, had been picked to bring a physical presence at No 6.
"He's a combative style of player, and he's done that week in, week out. There are a bunch of things he brings to the table, and given he's 29 and basically starting his test career, he brings the desperation and determination that comes with finally getting an opportunity."
The coach had also surprised many by retaining Jesse Mogg at fullback and Matt Toomua at five-eighth, but he defended both at today's media conference.
"It was a difficult night for a lot of our players but that was a function of pressure. Jesse has had a couple of tests and he'll settle down. We'll give him more around him in terms of support and structures. Guys like Jesse and others will benefit from the experience last week. It was a fast-paced game and you're playing against the best."
He called Toomua a "cool, calm and collected guy" but felt that the way the style of game skewed away from the Wallabies had as much to do with preparation as out-and-out bad decisions.
"We made 80-something tackles and they made 150. We did a lot of running with the ball, and they kicked a lot of high balls. In the end a game has a balance and they got it better than we did. That falls down to the playmakers."
So, it's the second chance saloon for many errant Wallabies this week. Don't expect McKenzie to be so generous if the scoreboard paints an equally bleak picture at the Cake Tin on Saturday night.
Wallabies: Jesse Mogg, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, James O'Connor, Matt Toomua, Will Genia; Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Saia Fainga'a, Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Liam Gill, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani.
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