Most sweetly of all, Australia’s scrum pulverised their supposed bogeymen on their own turf. They won six penalties from the scrum in total, Joe Marler being hooked before he was binned. The ghosts of Marseilles and Andrew Sheridan were comprehensively slain.
There was one moment in particular that will leave an irrevocable stain in the history of England forward play when Stephen Moore opted for to take the scrum from a freekick and won the penalty. To effect such a transformation – from underlings to overlords in little more than ten months – is staggering and owes much to the appointment of Mario Ledesma, the hard-nosed former Argentina hooker, as scrum coach. The temptation to crow about such a masterstroke and to remind Ben Morgan of his talk of Australia’s supposed mental “demons” must have been overwhelming. Instead, Cheika, as his wont, downplayed the achievement.
“We have been working hard on it,” Cheika said. “You have got to try and be consistent. Yeah, OK, that went well for us tonight. But we have to be consistent with it next week, and again and again.”
To quote The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Such is the case with Cheika. Throughout the build-up to playing England, Cheika kept playing up his inexperience as an international coach, conveniently ignoring the Rugby Championship, Heineken Cup and Super Rugby titles in his locker.
Even now after delivering the performance of the tournament that has catapulted the Wallabies into the All Blacks’ eyeline as the single greatest threat to their crown, Cheika was pretending like nothing had happened. When asked if they were now legitimate World Cup contenders, Cheika responded: “There is no need for any of those type of statements. It is just about improving each day.”
Qualification assured, Cheika still would not depart from the script – that his team are in development and he is drunkenly stumbling along, hopelessly out of his depth against coaches such as Wales’ Warren Gatland. “I’m coming up against the master coach next week,” he said. “He knows how to manoeuvre things around.”
As Stuart Lancaster discovered on Saturday night, Cheika is fast gaining grandmaster credentials.