Cheika tight-lipped on rant that ignited Wallaby comeback

Michael Cheika (AP)
Michael Cheika (AP)

Salta - Under-fire Australia coach Michael Cheika refused on Sunday to reveal what he said during a half-time rant that led to the greatest Rugby Championship comeback.

The Wallabies came from 31-7 down at half-time in Salta on Saturday to defeat Argentina 45-34 and avoid finishing last and dropping to eighth in the world rankings.

Australia even outdid Championship winners New Zealand, who trailed by 17 points before snatching a 32-30 triumph over South Africa in Pretoria six hours earlier.

The crowd at the Padre Ernesto Martearena stadium watched Cheika on the big screen as he pointed fingers and seemingly screamed during a half-time talk in the changeroom.

"It is not for public airing," insisted Cheika, whose job was on the line after six losses in eight matches this year before travelling to northwestern Argentina.

"This game is personal. We needed to get some personal meaning into our game because in the first half it was not there," he told reporters.

"Once the lads got some meaning and purpose into their game, they played a heck of a lot better.

"A few things did not go our way, but we did not make anything of ourselves with our approach to the game, particularly defensively.

"I was obviously very unhappy with the first half and very happy with the second. The point is that when we want to, we exhibit talent."

Skipper Michael Hooper, who scored the first of six Wallabies tries, was equally tight-lipped about what was said during the break.

"We had some pretty firm words in the shed (changeroom) and then it was up to the players," he said.

"I am still a bit confused as to how you can have such different halves to a game," admitted the flanker.

"Very proud of the boys for the resilience they showed after what we have been through recently.

"We attacked so well and defended equally well in the second half so why could we not have done the same during the opening 40 minutes?"

A key figure in the Australian triumph was recalled fly-half Bernard Foley, whose general play and goal-kicking were flawless.

He slotted all six conversions from angles of varying difficulty and succeeded with his only penalty attempt, which put 11 points between the teams five minutes from time.

Foley had been relegated to the bench after successive losses to New Zealand at the start of the Championship with Kurtley Beale given three starts in the playmaker role.

Beale dropped back to inside centre in place of Matt Toomua, who played off the bench in Salta.

New Zealand finished the six-round Championship season with 25 points, South Africa 15, Australia nine and Argentina eight.

Australia return to action on October 27 when they tackle New Zealand in a dead-rubber third Bledisloe Cup match in Japanese city Yokohama.

In November, the Wallabies play Wales, Italy and England during a tour of Europe.

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