Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: England present quite a challenge for Cheika

David Pocock of Australia goes past Owen Franks of New Zealand during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Shaun Botterill
David Pocock of Australia goes past Owen Franks of New Zealand during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Shaun Botterill

Gloomy pictures are beginning to be painted about the Wallabies' chances in their June test series with England.

The melancholy is spreading because of spluttering form from the Aussies in Super Rugby and the unpleasant feeling that is delivering as former coach Eddie Jones gets his troops in white sorted.

Those sentiments reached a low when the Chiefs garrotted the Brumbies' progress with a mix of sensible and spectacular rugby. The Canberra locals had a test-laden pack and other internationals throughout their backline but could not cope with the visitors' vibrant brand of rugby.

After six rounds, Australian sides have managed a win and a draw in eight transtasman matches.

Wallaby coach Michael Cheika will not be too concerned. He faced similar doubts last year and managed to get the squad tuned up for a World Cup final and will feel he has enough players to return to similar levels this season.

Maybe not with a lot to spare but Cheika will have the bulk of his best to weld into shape for the three-test series with England.

They will feel most keenly the offshore absences of Sekope Kepu at tighthead and Adam Ashley-Cooper as the backline organiser. There's little word on whether Cheika can work out some deal to get them back for test duty but there is some mail he might get Will Genia back at halfback.

Scott Sio, Sam Carter, Will Skelton and Sean McMahon are strong young talent for the pack, Greg Holmes and Toby Smith have upped their games, Rob Simmons and maybe Kane Douglas are on track while the Wallabies have a stack of wonderful loose forwards.

Nic Stirzaker is on the rise at halfback, Matt Toomua is simmering away once more with Samu Kerevi to help out the regulars with Rob Horne, Joe Tomane and perhaps Henry Speight to bolster the back three.

Cheika will have problems on several layers for the England series. Eight more rounds of Super Rugby will bite into his resources if the inevitable injuries arrive.

He may be able to get an extended squad together for some instructional camps but little else during the next few months.

Cheika will have to condense his ideas and planning when he settles on his test squad while he needs to extract some better form from some like Kurtley Beale and Tatafu Polota Nau.

The feisty Wallaby coach knows he will also have to lift his game as the wily Jones returns with an England side who always have a strong pack and are now learning how to beat teams across the park rather than trying to batter them down the middle.

- NZ Herald

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