Michael Cheika will embrace the Wallabies coaching challenge in the same cavalier fashion that led the NSW Waratahs to long-awaited Super Rugby glory in 2014.
After a whirlwind pursuit by the ARU, Cheika was formally ushered in as Ewen McKenzie’s replacement on Wednesday and said he had no hesitation accepting the daunting role despite the last two coaches’ reigns ending in despair.
Cheika will have to hit the ground running, with the Wallabies flying to Europe on Friday for their five-match end-of-year tour, while he only has eight Tests and 10 months to prepare for next year’s World Cup.
“We’ll be right,” he said after admitting the “one-off opportunity to try and make a difference” was too good to refuse.
“I never imagined I’d be in this situation. It’s a real honour.
“I never got to play for the Wallabies so to get the opportunity to coach the Australian team and have that responsibility on behalf of Australians is touching for me.
“I want to be top class.”
To be so, Cheika must juggle the NSW role after the ARU agreed to allow the 47-year-old father of four to complete his coaching commitments with the Waratahs in 2015.
“I am going to have to work hard and learn quickly but I am up for the challenge,” he said.
Very much a hands-on coach, Cheika has wasted little time stamping his authority on the Wallabies.
In a shake up, he has already dispensed with Wallabies attack coach Jim McKay and defence coach Nick Scrivener and appointed Waratahs assistant Nathan Grey for the spring tour.
Incumbent forwards coach Andrew Blades remains, with Cheika nominating stability around Australia’s set-piece as critical heading to the northern hemisphere.
Tellingly, the past three national coaches have had a coaching staff of at least four, with Robbie Deans heading up a five-man operation for the 2011 World Cup.
Cheika guided the Waratahs, for so long Super Rugby’s great underachievers, to their holy grail in the most stylish manner this season, the side claiming the title with a refreshing brand of rugby that also yielded the most tries and attacking bonus points.
He doesn’t believe he needs to make radical changes to the Test team’s approach, applauding McKenzie – his former Randwick teammate – for restoring good old-fashioned running rugby to the Wallabies during his turbulent 22-Test reign.
“It’s really important that we are clear with our identity, so when our supporters come to watch us play that they know exactly what they are going to see,” Cheika said.
“Not just running rugby but that smart, clever style of play that has allowed us to compete against teams that have bigger packs or whatever that may be.
“Nothing beats hard work. Nothing beats great skills. I think driving that idea every day of training will create more consistency.”
Dismissing any notion of potential bias while coaching state and country, Cheika said he sounded out Australia’s rival Super Rugby coaches about joining him on the spring tour “just as a short-term measure to get the collaboration happening”.
“They were all really eager. Unfortunately the logistics (meant) it wasn’t to be,” he said.
Cheika takes charge with the Wallabies mired in controversy over the Kurtley Beale texting affair and with many supporters disillusioned by the off-field drama along with three straight losses and another Bledisloe Cup series defeat.
While he promised to give supporters performances to be proud of, there were no such guarantees for Beale, whose future in Australian rugby rests with the outcome of his code-of-conduct hearing on Friday.
“I won’t be answering any questions on that today,” Cheika said.
“I don’t want to prejudice anything that’s going to happen with Kurtley in any way.”