Michael Cheika has challenged his travel-weary Wallabies to man up and strike an overdue trans-Tasman blow with a first victory over the world champion All Blacks in more than two years.
The Wallabies switched their focus almost immediately to the final Bledisloe Cup clash of the season in Brisbane on October 21 after rounding out their 2017 Rugby Championship campaign with a hard-earned 37-20 win over Argentina in Mendoza.
The victory – which came after two late tries broke a 20-all deadlock at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas – earned Australia second place in the tournament for the second year running.
“I don’t think we played fantastically well but we had a big two weeks. The travel’s been enormous,” Cheika said after his side backed up a 27-all draw with the Springboks on the South African high veldt with a five-tries-to-two triumph over the winless Pumas.
“We saw South Africa really lift their game. They really tested us last week and then this game here was always going to be difficult; Argentina in their last home game.”
“Even though we weren’t great in the first half, we stayed in the game, we trusted our shape and what we were doing and we got the points in the end.”
Despite two wins over Argentina being Australia’s only successes of the tournament, Cheika believes earning the Puma Cup after retaining the Mandela Plate are important morale boosters for his rebuilding team.
“It is important for them to have a little reward like that,” he said.
“We don’t delude ourselves that that’s the major prize but we want to get to the top and to do that we’ve got to be consistent and improve.
“We have to step up and improve when we take on New Zealand in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be a tough tussle but these lads are up for it.
“They’ve got a good attitude and if they can improve their game mindset so there’s less variations in the game, then I think we can go further.”
The coach was delighted with the performances of international newcomers Marika Koroibete, who bagged his third try in as many Tests, flanker Jack Dempsey, who ran for 100 metres and was iron-like in defence, and replacement forwards Allan Ala’alatoa and Lukhan Tui.
“We’ve got to back them to give them the experience in these cauldrons so that the more we go on, the smarter they’ll be,” Cheika said.
“They’ll learn from tonight.”
The match was eerily similar to the Wallabies’ 45-20 win over the Pumas in Canberra, with the score locked at 13-all at halftime and 20-all midway through the second stanza.
The final scoreline could easily have been the same as last time had Bernard Foley not missed four successive shots at goal at one point.
The five-eighth had slotted 19 straight before losing his rhythm on Sunday.