Dunedin: Captain Michael Hooper says the loss of Adam Coleman is a “huge blow” for the Wallabies ahead of their clash with the All Blacks but coach Michael Cheika is confident Rory Arnold and potential 21-year-old debutant Izack Rodda can bring the intensity required to give the team a chance of creating history on the South Island.
The Wallabies arrived in Dunedin to a frosty reception, with one newspaper, The Otago Daily Times, publishing a photo of Hooper with the inflammatory headline: “Tell ’em they’re dreaming”.
“Like we’re dreaming? I think no one [expects us to do anything] to be honest,” Cheika said. “It’s up to us to write our own chapters if we want to change that attitude around. People would be justified to think that.”
The overwhelming Kiwi view is the Wallabies are no-hopers and they may as well hand over the Bledisloe Cup before kick-off on Saturday under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium.
After being demolished by the All Blacks in Sydney, the Wallabies will need to break a 16-year hoodoo on New Zealand soil if they are to keep the series alive.
The All Blacks have now won six consecutive matches against the Wallabies and have chalked up 40 points on every occasion.
With so much going against them, the last thing the Wallabies needed was a late injury.
Coleman is a significant loss – he has re-aggravated a shoulder injury – and his absence has prompted a reshuffle in the Wallabies forward pack with Arnold coming into the starting XV and Rodda getting a chance on the bench.
“If he can’t do his job properly on the field it’s going to be a little bit difficult for him to play,” Cheika said on Friday. “So we made the decision this morning we would take him out.”
Hooper was brutally honest when asked about Coleman’s late omission.
“Huge blow, literally just found out this morning,” Hooper said. “We know he was pushing to the last minute to get it right. [He] even did the lineouts that we did this morning but just couldn’t get there.”
Coleman has forged a reputation as one of the Wallabies’ most aggressive forwards in the past 12 months, so when the 204cm second-rower trudged up the tunnel before Friday’s captain’s run had finished, it was devastating for the visitors.
And particularly so given Cheika has taken a gamble by selecting Rob Simmons to start, a player let go by the Queensland Reds after an indifferent Super Rugby season where he was twice dropped.
Rodda, who turned 21 on Sunday, has played just 12 Super Rugby games for the Reds and will endure a baptism of fire by potentially going up against Kiwi All Blacks stalwarts Brodie Rettalick and Sam Whitelock.
According to Cheika, it is up to Arnold and Rodda to get on with the job.
“It’s a blow for one guy but it’s an opportunity for another, isn’t it?” Cheika said. “First of all, for Arnold stepping up into the starting team, and then of course for young Rodda, who has impressed since he’s been in camp. Sometimes when the opportunity comes you have to take it with both hands, so he’s got to take it on Saturday.
“Arnold is now going to have to come in and contribute more, and when Rodda is on the field at the end of the game.”
It is backs-against-the-wall territory for the Australians, who are being given zero chance by not just New Zealanders but the majority of Australians who tuned into their spiritless first half at ANZ Stadium.
A loss would mark the 15th consecutive year the Wallabies have handed over the Bledisloe Cup; a trophy that, outside of the World Cup, is the pinnacle for both nations.
“If we lose this match it [the Bledisloe Cup] is out of contention,” Hooper said. “It’s what we’re playing for, it’s why we’re down here and it’s what we were going for last week.
“It’s definitely come into conversation but the way in which we achieve that goal is by smaller steps.
“That’s by having a better start, relieving the pressure that we’ve talked about [to free up] Izzy [Folau], KB [Kurtley Beale], Bernard [Foley] and Sean McMahon as well as guys in our forward pack who can carry hard from the word go.”