Australia's 'free spirits' under orders to carry on running risks

Head coach Michael Cheika has no intention of changing his side's style to adopt safety-first tactics.

TOKYO, 23 Sep - Australia head coach Michael Cheika has vowed his team will continue to follow a high-risk, high-tempo game plan throughout Rugby World Cup 2019 because it is the way they were "born to play". 

After almost 50 minutes of their opening Pool D match against Fiji, the Wallabies found themselves 21-12 down with their ambitious, unstructured, ball-in-hand blueprint seemingly playing right into the Pacific Islanders' hands.

But far from urging his team to start kicking to the corners, Cheika, pictured, is adamant he wanted his troops to stick to their beliefs.

"Funnily enough, none of that stuff got us in any trouble," Cheika said on Monday. "We are not big kickers of the ball. We know Australians want to watch us play footy with the ball in hand.

"It's not going to be perfect all the time, I get it. But if you look at the try they scored just after half-time (when Fiji's Waisea Nayacalevu picked up a loose pass from Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi and ran in unopposed from the halfway line), that is a 14-point turnaround. If that ball goes to where it is supposed to we are away there."

Australia did turn the game around and, despite two of their four second-half tries coming off the back of a rolling maul, Cheika was delighted his players never lost faith in his core message.

"You have got to be able to adapt, you can't be stubborn, but it's not like we went into a huge kicking mode," the Australian said. "I think we kicked the ball nine times."

This free-spirited, run-at-almost-all-costs approach is a relatively new one for this generation of Wallabies. It was, in fact, only after Australia had endured a miserable 2018 season, during which they lost nine of 13 test matches, that Cheika sat his players down and proposed a return to the old ways. 

"When we first came together at the start of the year and started talking about playing this way, there were a lot of blank looks, especially from the playmakers because they are so used to calling everything and pre-calling everything," Cheika said. "But that is the way we are born to play.

"I get it, I understand there are the tactics, kick and pressure and all that business, but there is no guarantee that style of footy is going to win us games either."

A thrilling 47-26 Rugby Championship victory against the All Blacks in Perth in August was perhaps the sign the players, and indeed the Australian public needed, confirming that Cheika and his backroom staff knew what they were doing. 

Wales, who Cheika credits as having "one of the best defences in world rugby", await on Sunday in Tokyo. But do not expect the men in green and gold to do anything but attack from the off. 

"It has been a bit of a running joke. If we don't know what we are doing then the opposition has no chance of knowing what we are doing," Cheika said.

"That is who we are and that is how we want to play footy. That's how I'd like my young fellas to play footy and I'd like the young Aussies to watch us playing like that."

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