SYDNEY: Wallabies coach Michael Cheika admitted Sunday he was hurting after watching the All Blacks crush his Bledisloe Cup dream, as selectors prepared to sift through the debris and pick their World Cup squad.
The Australians went into their clash at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday bristling with confidence after stunning the world champions 47-26 in Perth a week earlier.
But they were brought crashing back to earth by a dominant New Zealand that romped to an emphatic 36-0 victory — the first time since 2012 the Wallabies have failed to score against their arch-rivals.
“Yeah, it hurt last night, it hurts now and is going to hurt for a while because the opportunity (to win the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup) has gone," Cheika said on his arrival back in Sydney.
“But we will be back next year. The Wallabies will be going there hard and strong to compete and try and get the trophy.
“But that's down the track. Now it's about making sure we get the right selection as best we can and take that to the (World) Cup."
Cheika will sit down with his fellow selectors this week to pick the squad he hopes can go one better in Japan than their 2015 campaign when they finished runners-up to the All Blacks.
The squad is due to be announced on Friday, ahead of a final warm-up Test against Samoa in Sydney on September 7.
So far this year, Australia have won two Tests (against Argentina and New Zealand) and lost two (South Africa and New Zealand), which Cheika said was a big improvement from 2018 when they played 13 and tasted victory in just four.
“We've really been pleased with the improvement from last year," he said, putting a brave face on the New Zealand thrashing.
“I think we've seen a difference in the team, a difference in the goals off the field as well, and the camaraderie."
The core of the squad going to Japan will already be settled, but Cheika insisted the door remained open to some players who have only been on the periphery so far this year.
He pointed to young flanker Jack Dempsey, prop Tom Robertson and fullback Jack Maddocks.
“There's still highly competitive competition for some positions and it will depend on the composition of the squad, how many forwards, how many backs, specialist positions," he said.
“Sometimes you might go with form, sometimes with potential and some with possible combinations you're thinking of."
Apart from the injury enforced change of Adam Coleman for Rory Arnold at lock, the Wallabies kept the same line-up for Saturday's match after their Perth upset.
But the All Blacks pack outmuscled them while Richie Mo'unga pulled the strings at fly-half to keep the Wallaby backs scrambling in the five-tries-to-nil masterpiece.