LONDON: The Wallabies finally have something to smile about after beating the Barbarians and new coach Michael Cheika wants Australia to “get on the ride” as his team attempts to restore its badly dented reputation.
The Wallabies started Cheika’s tenure with a 40-36 win at Twickenham on Sunday morning Australian time, holding off a Nick Cummins’ inspired charge to secure a morale-boosting triumph.
The Barbarians’ helter-skelter style and attacking freedom exposed some flaws in the Australian game plan in an 11-try bonanza.
But Cheika believes that can help accelerate his side’s development after a winless month filled with off-field dramas.
The Wallabies also unearthed a potential Test star in Melbourne rookie Sean McMahon, who starred in his Australian debut after getting a shock spring tour call up.
“The win helps, but the issue is about the players and the team taking the initiative and changing people’s [perception], get them enjoying the game again,” Cheika said.
“Forget about all the other stuff, just enjoy footy for what it brings. Sometimes it’s going to be great, other times it won’t be perfect.
“But it’s about getting on the ride and enjoying it, being proud of the team. We can do that by showing our commitment on the field.
“Our defence is probably the part of our game I want to improve the most … it’s a new system so you’ll have that slight hesitation but hopefully we’re a bit more aggressive next week.”
Australian rugby has been bashed and belted from every angle and the Kurtley Beale-Di Patston drama has engulfed the sport.
The Wallabies are intent on rebuilding respect with a four-Test tour of Europe, starting against Wales in Cardiff this weekend.
“[The game plan] of the Waratahs isn’t going to work, we’ve got to build a unique style and embrace the characters in the team that will suit us,” Cheika said.
McMahon stepped up to make his mark on the Wallabies, coming on as a replacement for Scott Higginbotham after just 19 minutes.
Higginbotham is in danger of missing the rest of the Wallabies tour after injuring is hamstring, but will be given two days to recover before a decision is made.
Cheika described McMahon’s debut as “outstanding” and the Australian under-20s captain and Commonwealth Games bronze medal winner didn’t look at out of place in front of almost 54,000 fans.
McMahon is in contention to replace Higginbotham in the backrow next week, with Cheika saying he would not panic into calling a player into the squad.
But the Wallabies had hearts in their mouths when cult hero Cummins, also known as the Honey Badger, led the Barbarians on a late charge.
The crowd roared as Cummins made break after break against his former teammates as the Barbarians closed the gap from 18 points to just four with time running out in a seesaw battle.
“It was a tough game … they kept throwing the ball around and our defence stood strong at the end,” said captain Matt Hodgson.
“We knew they would throw it around at the end to try to catch up. We just had to stick to our system.
“It’s a big step forward for us. We’re on a five-week tour and we needed to start with momentum … not only with a win but with that physical style.”
Sam Carter, Benn Robsinson, Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley and McMahon all scored tries while the Barbarians refused to give up.
Queensland duo Quade Cooper and Will Genia got their chances to start as a five-eighth-halfback combination but were a little rusty after injury-enforced breaks from the game.
Outside centre Tevita Kuridrani was outstanding again and has all but locked up the Wallabies’ No.13 jersey for the tour.
Cheika’s impact on the team was evident right from the opening whistle.
The Wallabies adopted Cheika’s plan to have players start 10 metres behind halfway at kick-off, a ploy used by the NSW Waratahs in their Super Rugby success.
The Barbarians were intent on entertaining and put on an experimental masterclass to try to catch the Wallabies napping
From their first lineout No.8 Steven Luatua launched the ball 35 metres over the set piece to a flying Nick Cummins, who dropped the ball in contact.
From their first attacking penalty they put the ball five metres from the Wallabies’ line and used a 12-man lineout to try and force their way over the line.
When that was illegally stopped, halfback Tomas Cubelli used an audacious no-look kick over his head from close range which resulted in a scramble for possession in the in goal.
Both teams had less than a week together in preparation, but it was the Barbarians – made up of players from all over the world – who steamrolled Cheika’s men early.
At times the Wallabies appeared to lack some cohesion in the helter skelter fixture, with running rugby taking precedence over tactical play.
AT A GLANCE
WALLABIES40 (Sam Carter, Benn Robinson, Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Sean McMahon tries; Quade Cooper 3, Bernard Foley 2 conversions) bt BARBARIANS 36 (Frank Halai, Adam Thomson, Francis Saili, Nick Cummins, Marnitz Bashoff tries; Colin Slade 2, Marnitz Boshoff 2 conversions; Colin Slade penalty) at Twickenham on Sunday morning. Crowd: 53,568. Referee: Jaco Peyper.