WELLINGTON • Wallabies coach Michael Cheika faces perhaps "the biggest challenge" of his career in Saturday's Rugby Championship clash against New Zealand in Wellington, a week after his side were humiliated by the same opposition in Sydney.
Cheika earned praise for winning last year's tournament and leading Australia to last year's World Cup final just 12 months after taking over a disorganised unit. But a 0-3 home series loss to England in June signalled the end of his honeymoon period.
The slump continued, with last week's 42-8 mauling by the rampant All Blacks handing Cheika a fourth consecutive home defeat.
The 49-year-old yesterday offered a frank assessment of the task ahead when asked where it ranked in his coaching career.
"Probably the biggest. It's a big stage and it's a big challenge for us," he said. "The criticism from the performance (last weekend) is very warranted...
"(The players) are feeling pretty terrible about it, so we've got to get them back up into a situation where that's driving them to do something better this weekend."
Since I've been here, win or lose, we've always been pretty true to our identity and that's the first time I don't think that we have - and we've got to make that right.
MICHAEL CHEIKA, Wallabies head coach, on last week's 42-8 thrashing by the All Blacks.
Cheika dismissed criticism of his selection of veteran backs Will Genia, 28, Matt Giteau, 33, and Adam Ashley-Cooper, 32.
"I thought Will Genia was one of the players who did stand up in that game," the coach said. "Since I've been here, win or lose, we've always been pretty true to our identity and that's the first time I don't think that we have - and we've got to make that right."
Former New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive David Moffett blames Super Rugby for the Australians' woes. He said that taking Super Rugby from a "ludicrous" 18-team competition back to 12 teams must be the starting point to rebuild the Wallabies.
"The pursuit of quantity over quality is a nightmare with Japan, other weaker teams involved and talk of 20 and 24 teams in the future," he said. "I'd return the competition to 12 teams and play home-and-away with four each from Australia, NZ and South Africa.
"The Super Rugby set-up is part of the Wallabies' downfall."