Michael Cheika believes that all five teams in Pool A will be feeling concerned about their World Cup prospects but welcomes the challenge
Australia does not sack its rugby coaches with quite the regularity it dumps prime ministers. However, if Michael Cheika is to keep the Wallabies job longer than Tony Abbott ran the country then results at the World Cup clearly have to go his way, no easy matter considering the opposition – three sides in the world’s top 10 – coming his way.
First up Fiji, the new Pacific champions and ranked ninth in the world, followed by Uruguay, pool outsiders but still inside World Rugby’s top 20, England, the home nation ranked fourth, and then Wales, one further off in fifth spot.
Given that Australia have got through three coaches since the last World Cup – as opposed to five prime ministers – Cheika would have every right to feel aggrieved at the burden. Not so. “It is as it is,” the coach said in Bath, before taking his squad on their first training session since landing in England.
“We’re not organising a tournament, we just go and play. We’ve known who the opponents are for the last how many years so it’s no surprise. What it does do is give you a different lead into the tournament from that of other teams.
“Teams in our pool will have a totally different lead-in and pathway through the tournament because there is no one feeling comfortable in our group and that’s the way it should be. It’s a World Cup and it’s going to be tough every game. We are going to have to earn everything we get and that’s definitely something we want to do. We don’t want anyone to give us anything.”
According to Cheika, his planning for Pool A and beyond – and, if word is correct, it is likely to mean every member of his 31-strong squad gets a run out against either Fiji or Uruguay – is part of a bigger plan that started to form when Ewen McKenzie resigned last October and the former Leinster coach got the job and an autumn tour, as he puts it, with “three days’ notice”.
Since then Australia have played only nine Tests under Cheika, but along the way picked up their first Rugby Championship with a 27-19 win over the All Blacks in August, while experimenting with a back row containing two open-side flankers and confirming that, at last, they had found a scrummaging front row.
If that was a product of the former Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma arriving as the scrum coach, then the free-running backs were as much the work of Stephen Larkham, the former Wallabies fly-half and another of the coaching team put together by Cheika.
“I’m relatively comfortable with the progression we have made since coming in last year in November, so it’s not a year yet compared to other teams who have had their coaches in place for maybe four years, I suppose.
“We are relatively young experience-wise,” said the 48-year-old, although he could have pointed to a Heineken Cup with Leinster in his fourth season and a Super Rugby title with the Waratahs, in his second season.
“We’ve tried to make a strong plan from that day to now. Things were going to improve off the field and on the field around our physical, tactical, mental, our rugby play.
“I sat down and thought about what was required,” said Cheika, although he refused to be precise about the answers he came up with. “There were obviously a few things I thought necessary but I think we’ll leave that to the reflection piece.
“I suppose you make a long-term plan about where you want to be, but you also knock off the short-term goals as well to get the side up and enjoying itself as well, and I think that’s a big thing. The smile had gone off the faces of a lot of people involved on both sides of the paddock fence, both inside and outside.”
- The Guardian