Australia coach Michael Cheika insisted the Wallabies were fully committed to the cause after his extraordinary revelation on the eve of their 2018 finale against England that two veteran backs had been dropped for inviting women into their hotel room.
The breach of team discipline involving Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale occurred after Australia’s 9-6 defeat by Wales in Cardiff on November 10.
Cheika said Friday that despite the upheaval, Australia were “more committed to going to the well than at any stage”.
The confirmation the experienced pair would not feature in Saturday’s clash at Twickenham became public on the same day star No 8 David Pocock was ruled out with a neck injury suffered in Australia’s 26-7 win over Italy last weekend in which both Ashley-Cooper and Beale played.
It is alleged the players brought women back to their hotel room https://t.co/w3GaDyK4ur
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) November 23, 2018
For all the two backs have exactly 200 caps between them, Cheika stressed the pair, who took part in training Friday, were not guaranteed selection against England.
– Damaging absence –
He also said he only became aware of the hotel incident earlier this week.
But Pocock’s absence is arguably more damaging to Australia’s chances of ending a tough year on a high.
“He just couldn’t get over it,” said Cheika, who had named the back-row in his starting side on Thursday. “He knows his body better than anyone and had prepared better than anyone – but he couldn’t overcome it.
“And there’s a bit of me that is relieved he came to that conclusion because he’d been copping it. He’s been getting smashed in there,” added Cheika, who has brought in Pete Samu to replaced Pocock.
Australia have won just four of their 12 Tests in 2018, a worrying record ahead of next year’s World Cup in Japan, and are on a five-game losing streak against England.
But despite Friday’s upheaval, a defiant Cheika said: “I’ve got a feeling our backs were against the wall beforehand.
“But the players are committed to going to the well more than they have been at any stage this season. That’s what we need to do and we’ll love it.
“We’re going to cop a heap of grief – probably a little bit more after today for sure –- but you’ve got to love it.
“I’ve got a lot of self-belief and a lot of belief in my team and I hope I can pass more of that on to them so they can have that genuine Aussie swagger when they run on to the field.”
Prior to Friday’s extraordinary press conference, Cheika had engaged in some rather more traditional pre-match talk by suggesting England would look to tackle Australia’s play-makers late or “post delivery (ie after they had passed or kicked)”.
England, coached by ex-Australia boss Eddie Jones — a former team-mate of Cheika’s at Sydney club Randwick — have won just five of their 11 Tests this year.
But victory on Saturday would leave them with a record of three wins from four this month, with the lone loss an encouraging yet still agonising 16-15 defeat by world champions New Zealand.
An experimental England side were given a scare before 25 unanswered second-half points sealed a 35-15 win over Japan.
Jones, Australia’s coach when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England, has strengthened his starting line-up by recalling Owen Farrell at fly-half.
Intriguingly, Farrell’s fellow England co-captain Dylan Hartley is on the bench, with Jamie George the starting hooker.
England-Australia clashes have often boiled down to a contest between Red Rose forwards and Wallaby backs, although the hosts will look to bring Manu Tuilagi off the bench in what is set to be the injury-plagued centre’s first Test in more than two years.
But a key figure up front for England will be Saracens second-row Maro Itoje.
“I think every game he looks like he’s going to become the best lock in the world, and it’s another opportunity for him to knock on the door,” said Jones.
jdg/gj (Additional editing by Sean McMahon)
© Agence France-Presse