Bledisloe Cup: Trial match leaves Wallabies with no excuses

A Wallabies trial match is not without risks but after back-to-back Bledisloe Cup hidings in Sydney, Michael Cheika has at least realised the need for a change in strategy.

The internal trial on Friday August 3 will be without the Waratahs' Wallabies, and those whose clubs remain in contention for finals around the country. So it won't be a "possibles vs. probables" format, the like of which the All Blacks used to contest.

But what it will afford Cheika is the ability to get some actual rugby into the players who've already been confined to the training paddock for the best part of a fortnight. And then there are those who have been injured since the June interval for which the break extends to more than a month.

At the top of that list are Will Genia and Adam Coleman, while Dane Haylett-Petty missed the Rebels' final outing against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

But Genia and Coleman have not played since the Melbourne and Sydney losses to Ireland, respectively. The Rebels duo are two players the Wallabies need match-fit for the All Blacks; Coleman brings defensive aggression while Genia remains the standout No.9 in the country.

The other key benefit of the trial will be the opportunity to give Reece Hodge a run at No. 13, where the Wallabies are desperately undermanned. A strong finish to an otherwise underwhelming Super Rugby season from Tevita Kuridrani had seemingly softened the blow left by Samu Kerevi's season-ending injury, only for the Brumbies veteran to be cut down himself during the final-round upset of the Waratahs.

Hodge may have played little rugby at 13, but he is a far more capable defender than Kerevi and has deputised for Kurtley Beale in defence from set-piece previously at Test level. Cheika on Thursday indicated he would also consider Israel Folau at No.13, but the simpler solution would be to keep him at fullback, particularly given the form he showed in last weekend's quarterfinal win over the Highlanders.

But perhaps most importantly, the addition of an internal trial allows the Wallabies the chance to distance themselves from the losing narrative of the past two seasons. Having spoken about the benefit of having no team involved from the Super Rugby semifinals onwards the last two years, before being promptly whacked in the Bledisloe opener, the storyline is no longer such an issue.

Rather than field questions as to why this Bledisloe result can be different to the past two years, Cheika can at least point to a change in preparation; one aided by the fact the Waratahs continue to fly the flag for Australia in Super Rugby.

The All Blacks have hammered the Wallabies from the opening whistle in Sydney the past two years but if you return to 2015, when both the Waratahs and Brumbies reached the Super Rugby semifinals, three weeks later Australia triumphed 27-19 at ANZ Stadium.

That victory was the first occasion in which Cheika used Michael Hooper and David Pocock in tandem; a ploy Steve Hansen later assessed by saying the All Blacks had prepared for but perhaps "not quite prepared enough".

The indication is Cheika will persist with that combination despite the All Blacks adjusting far better to it since that 2015 result. The only issue is: Hooper is another who hasn't played since the third Test loss to Ireland.

It may be that the Waratahs advance to the Super Rugby final next week and Hooper is fit to play, or that they are eliminated and the skipper was unlikely to be fit anyway. That would leave make him unlikely to figure in the trial or, alternatively, with Manly in the Shute Shield.

However the Hooper situation transpires, Cheika has at least given himself options. It is a complete change of thinking from the past two years and one that simply had to happen.

It might not result in a win on August 18, but Wallabies fans would probably settle for the Bledisloe opener still being a contest at halftime. There can be no excuses for a slow start in Sydney this time around.