Cheika hits back at critics

SYDNEY • Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has shrugged off Australia's struggles in Super Rugby this season and hit back at critics for being too pessimistic about the local game in the lead-up to the home Test series against England.

Four of Australia's five Super Rugby teams are in the doldrums in the Southern Hemisphere competition, with only the conference-topping Melbourne Rebels exceeding expectations at the halfway point of the season.

The slump in form has taken the gloss off Australia's run to last year's World Cup final, with local media already dismissing the Wallabies' chances of beating top-ranked New Zealand in the annual Bledisloe Cup series.

"One thing I learned in Super Rugby is that the season goes for 18 rounds and there is (still a long way to go)," Cheika told reporters in Sydney yesterday.

"There is a lot of carry-on from people who have a different agenda or maybe they've had too many years of negativity and they can't break the cycle, instead of just saying 'this is a game of footy, I am going to enjoy it'."

The Wallabies play a resurgent England in a three-Test series starting in Brisbane on June 11.

Eddie Jones has turned around England's fortunes since their calamitous first-round exit at their home World Cup last year, with the side winning the Six Nations Grand Slam last month for the first time since 2003.

"They are the No. 1 team in Europe and they have made it clear they want to become the No. 1 team in the world," Cheika said. "This is a great starting point for them."

He has promised to cast a wide selection net, after having been a catalyst in a policy change in Australian rugby last year that allowed foreign-based players to earn selection.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Cheika hits back at critics'. Print Edition | Subscribe