Former Wallaby calls for changes ahead of decider
FORMER Wallaby Rod Kafer has called for Tolu Latu to start at hooker and bolster Australia's breakdown presence for Saturday's Test series decider against Ireland in Sydney.
Latu has been out of favour with the Waratahs in Super Rugby this season but has found himself back in Michael Cheika's good books as the Wallabies coach deals with the unvailablility of first-choice rakes Tatafu Polota-Nau and Jordan Uelese.
Former garbage man Brandon Paenga-Amosa has been a popular addition to the Wallabies set-up and started the first two Tests, which ended 1-1 as a fascinating tactical tussle heads into its final leg.
Paenga-Amosa hasn't been bad, by any stretch, but the lineout has predictably had some wobbles against a superbly drilled Irish pack.
And there's another key factor in Latu's favour, Kafer argues, as Cheika prepares to unveil his team on Thursday.
"Nothing against Brandon but I think one of the things the Wallabies lack, apart from David Pocock, is players that can compete on the floor," Kafer said on Wednesday.
"You look at hookers like Malcolm Marx, Bismarck du Plessis before him, hooker is a position where you find yourself in and around, like a backrower, with opportunities to compete for the ball.
"Michael Hooper, that's not his skillset either, and we don't necessarily have anyone else in that forward pack who will compete for the ball at the breakdown."
Kafer said the issue was exacerbated with a lack of breakdown exponents across the Australian backline, an area in
which Adam Ashley-Cooper had excelled in the past.
"So we just lack that skill set," he said.
"Maybe that's something you look at bringing in specifically for this Test match."
Cheika possibly showed his third Test hand by subbing Paenga-Amosa and No.8 Caleb Timu for Latu and Lukhan Tui at half-time in Melbourne.
Tui played at blindside flanker with Pocock at the back of the scrum although Kafer said he'd lean towards giving Timu another chance in starting his third Test.
He also said he would elevate Jake Gordon to the bench ahead of Joe Powell despite the Waratahs halfback only being called into camp this week as an injury replacement for Will Genia.
"Who's going to give me the best impact with 15 minutes to go to break a game open?
"I think Jake Gordon is that player.
"Running game, he's a try scorer.
"Jake gives you impact, Joe gives you a consistent, hardworking player."
Like many rugby fans, Kafer had been enthralled and entertained by the first two Tests as the Wallabies took the honours 18-9 in Brisbane before Ireland emerged 26-21 victors in Melbourne.
That second result saw Australia drop back to fourth on the world rankings behind New Zealand, Ireland and Wales and Kafer said consistency was still an issue for Cheika's men.
"It's rocks and diamonds, up and down," he said.
"But this is a grand final this week.
"The great Wallaby coach Rod Macqueen used to talk about stopping to smell the roses.
"That you've got to embrace the fact that it is special and you do get moments in your life to do things that do get remembered in the annals of history.
"And this is a moment for this Australian team.
"They can either be a team that wins a great series against Ireland or they can be the first team since 1979 who loses a series against Ireland."
While Genia's broken arm is a major blow for the Wallabies, Kafer was comfortable with Nick Phipps as the starting No.9 and drew comfort from his long-starting combination with Bernard Foley.
"You don't play 60 Test matches if you're a dud, he's not a dud," Kafer said.
He also backed strike weapons Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau to return to their usual high standards after disappointing showings at AAMI Park.
Kafer, who also holds an elite coaching development role with Rugby Australia, had no issues with Ireland's 'blocking' tactics in the second Test.
Wallabies assistant coach Stephen Larkham questioned whether men in green were unfairly impeding Folau's access to high balls but Kafer said it was simply smart rugby.
"The Australian team does it, every team does it," he said.
"Ireland managed that situation very well, they recognised that threat.
"I didn't see anything wrong with what they did, running back for the ball.
"They just got in the channel, did what you're supposed to do.
"A well coached side recognises that, they adjust.
"The question we should be looking at, more so, is how do we adjust our tactics to combat that?
"We have to change our attacking breakdown to deal with that because Ireland flooded and got turnovers and caused slow ball.
"So then we kick, we kick poorly, not a great chase and we sit here saying it's the referee's fault?
"It's not, we didn't get front-foot ball."