AUSTRALIAN teams may have exited the Super Rugby finals on the first weekend. But that could be a blessing in disguise for Saturday night's opening Bledisloe Cup match against the All Blacks in Sydney.
New coaching co-ordinator Tony McGahan said the lack of time together had hampered player preparation ahead of the one-off match against Scotland, and the three-Test series against Wales in June.
"The Welsh series didn't give us a lot of time together. But because the Australian Super 15 sides didn't go through beyond that first week of the finals, we've been able to put a lot of work in with the boys as a consequence," McGahan said. "I think we've got a really good group. The keys will be keeping our best players on the field, and having depth. And Australia is well on the way to achieving that."
That depth was demonstrated yesterday when World Cup fly-half Quade Cooper was left out of the 22-man team, Berrick Barnes instead named to partner Will Genia in the playmaking roles.
Prior to taking on his new role before the Scotland game, McGahan spent seven years in various coaching capacities with Irish club Munster.
While Saturday night will be his first match as part of the Wallabies coaching group against the All Blacks, who are rebuilding for another World Cup campaign, McGahan said he knew exactly how big the challenge would be.
"The high standard of their play over such a long period of time is one of their most impressive traits," he said. "The intensity of their play, the skill level ... they are things that are passed down from team to team."
It is those same traits that have characterised teams coached by McGahan, including the Munster side that downed the touring Wallabies 15-6 in 2010.
He said the resilience shown by the Wallabies in the series against "a good Wales side", would be required again if Australia was to take a crucial 1-nil lead in this year's Bledisloe Cup.
"Our first-up defence will be the key. We need to win those one-on-one battles around the ground," McGahan said.
Leading the way in that area will be skipper David Pocock and Scott Higginbotham who moves from blindside flanker to No.8 in place of the injured Wycliff Palu.
Anthony Fainga'a will start at inside centre while Waratahs Player of the Year Dave Dennis moves from the bench to blindside flanker.
WALLABIES LINE-UP: Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Anthony Fainga'a, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock, Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Sitaleki Timani, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Drew Mitchell
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