Cheika evolution putting Wallabies on high alert

Evolve or die. That’s the life of a professional rugby coach and the Wallabies have already noticed major changes in Argentina’s approach under Michael Cheika.

The former Australia mentor has made a winning start to his Pumas tenure, beating Scotland 2-1 in a rare series win in July.

As per usual, Argentina will start the Rugby Championship as clear underdogs – a mindset that will fit Cheika as snugly as one of his favorite match day suits.

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“We’ve watched all their games,” Wallabies attack coach Scott Wisemantel said ahead of the opening August 7 (AEST) clash with the Pumas in Mendoza.

“They’re playing a lot more rugby, they’re holding the ball for longer periods and they’re doing well so they’ll test our defence.

“Conversely, from a (Wallabies) attacking point of view, they’re filling the front third. There are 13 in the (defensive) front line and their spacing is really broad. So we’ve got to come up with a plan to attack that.”

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Wisemantel was a member of England’s coaching staff that knocked Cheika’s Wallabies out of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

He had already noticed differences in Cheika’s methods with Argentina on a coaching ticket that includes former NRL enforcer David Kidwell and Pumas legend Felipe Contepomi.

“You are always going to have some philosophical points that you can lean on but Cheik’s changed with his assistants,” Wisemantel said.

“You look at all the coaches with longevity in any code. I look at (Kevin) Sheedy, I look at (Craig) Bellamy, those sorts of coaches.

“They all evolve by turning over their assistants. Cheik’s done that with Argentina and they’re playing some good footy.

“What he’s doing really well is he’s relying on the attributes that set some of his players apart, whether it’s through power or skill, and then mixing it up.”

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More than a week on, Wisemantel remained frustrated at Australia’s inability to convert opportunities into points in the 2-1 series loss to England.

He gave a ringing endorsement of Michael Hooper’s captaincy credentials after some commentary that it might be time for a fresh voice leading into the 2023 World Cup.

“What does Michael bring? Look, he’s smart,” Wisemantel said.

“Tactically, on the field and in the way he communicates with the referees, his evolution, particularly over the last three years, has been outstanding. He’s a world class player. You look by position how other teams rate him, he’s world class. “

Wisemantel added Hooper was “revered” by his teammates.

“He’s a strong leader. He’s a great listener. And then he will compress and compartmentalise all the information. He’ll either paraphrase it back, or he’ll come up with an opinion and a strategy and we either disagree or we agree with it, and then we go in one direction, and away we go. He’s brilliant at it.”

Wisemantel will have to motto an attacking strategy without star center Samu Kerevi against Argentina.

Kerevi is representing Australia in sevens at the Commonwealth Games and his outstanding ball running in particular will be missed.

“I’m not worried about what I haven’t got,” Wisemantel said.

“I wish I had 10 million bucks in my account. I don’t. So I don’t worry about those things.

“We’ve got some exceptional centers – (Hunter) Paisami, (Len) Ikitau, (Irae) Simone and (Lalakai) Foketi. Four really good centres. So what we need to do is work out the strong points and how we can play and how we can get the best out of those blocks…

“Hunter has played for us at 12 but he’s also done a job for us at 13. We need bokes who are adaptable and a footballer is a footballer. Wherever they play, they can move around, they know the game and they can adapt. So we’re really big on that.

“If you’ve got a specialist 12 in general, they’re probably a better ball player than your 13 and they can take the pressure off the 10 a bit. They might be a crash ball guy at 12 and it bends the line when there’s nothing on. So it just depends on how you want to play.

“There are specialist traits. However, they have to be good enough to adapt and be able to mix and match – you don’t want to be a one trick pony.”

The Wallabies are in camp on the Gold Coast and will fly to Argentina on Friday.

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