With the Wallabies coaching staff in the firing line following one of the worst years in their history, players maintain they still have faith in their message.
Last Saturday’s dismal 9-6 defeat by Wales not only failed to produce a try, it was also a first loss in 14 matches to the principality. It was the team’s 10th defeat in their last 13 matches and to rub extra salt in the wounds was a claim by Wales coach Warren Gatland that his side have never felt so defensively comfortable against Australia.
But veteran prop Sekope Kepu, who is set to win his 102nd cap against Italy on Saturday (Sunday 0100 AEDT), in a game Michael Cheika simply must win, said the coaching staff have been good at not allowing external criticism infiltrate to the players.
“He’s dealt with it in his own way and not let it affect the team too much,” Kepu said. “I know personally I don’t read the media and that stuff.
“That is part of how I look at it. You just worry about what is going on in the team environment. As long as we are honest with each other in this team that is all that matters to me.
“It’s another week and the chance to chase the goal that we want and the goals we have set ourselves.”
After conceding 81 points in their last two matches against Argentina and New Zealand the Wallabies were much improved in defence in Cardiff despite being so stodgy in attack.
Kepu said that defensive display and improvement in the lineout showed the message from the coaches is getting through to the players. He also said an attack containing the likes of Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau will eventually click.
“We’re not going to throw everything away,” he said. “Obviously we lost a Test match, there’s a lot of good things we can take away from that game.
“It’s about building on those things and just working on those little moments we weren’t concentrating. The results will come. The World Cup is still 12 months away but this week is another massive challenge and a chance for us to build. It’s a good chance to come away strong for the rest of the year.”
Hooker Tolu Latu said he was grateful to the faith shown in him by Cheika, especially after he was sin-binned for the second time this season against the All Blacks in Tokyo last month.
Latu started the season playing club rugby for Sydney University after being dropped by NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson for not being fit enough. Cheika gave Latu his debut for the Waratahs in 2014 and has told the 25-year-old not to lose his abrasive side but learn to keep his cool when being provoked by opponents.
“He said I’ve got to control that aggression and be smarter, don’t let guys bait you into doing stuff like that,” Latu said. “That’s part of my game, that aggression and physicality, but I’ve just got to learn to let them do what they want and get them in a tackle.
“The biggest thing he said to me was keep it controlled and be smart about it.”