Cheika pays tribute to Muhammad Ali

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Wallabies might seem a world away from the boxing ring but on Monday, coach Michael Cheika paid tribute to Muhammad Ali, a source of inspiration for the side.

Few sporting fans would have grown up without some sort of Ali paraphernalia and Cheika said the Wallabies had certainly drawn on him for inspiration.

Ali’s death has reached into many areas of the globe, reflective of his transcendence of the sporting arena, more a cultural icon than simply a boxing champion.

“From our point of view, we’re a long, long way away and we’d like to let his family know that our thoughts are well and truly with them,” Cheika said.

“Because we, like many sporting teams around the world, have used that man as inspiration, in motivational videos, in posters that go up on the wall, in phrases and sayings that he’s used.

“We’ve been able to use a part of his aura to help us build our own personalities.

“We should pay respect to that, even though we don’t know the man, we only know him from his boxing and from his stature but we’ve used him and his life or what he’s done in his life to help inspire us so.

“As you say, may he rest in peace and all the best to his family.”

Flyhalf Bernard Foley said Ali had been an inspiration for him, specifically around standing up for his beliefs and having a strong identity.

Bernard Foley will be at 10, but who will be outside him? Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmlsey

That identity is one that Cheika has long espoused and will be tested once again when the England series kicks off.

Saturday’s opening Test could yet be the most telling challenge for the Wallabies identity, their first outing on home soil since before the World Cup, but Cheika said it had not wavered.

“We have a very clear picture internally,” he said.

“It's there for us to see on a day to day basis.

“The challenge for us is you don't put it out on a billboard or up on a website.

“The only way supporters get to see who we are is how we play on a Saturday.

“The boys have thought about the past in creating it, as well as what we can add to it, and the only way we can get it out there is by the way we perform when we represent Australia.

“That's how we want it to be, that makes us very accountable for who we want to be.”

With Christian Lealiifano still awaiting the birth of his child, the Wallabies inside backs combinations are muddier than ever but Cheika said his belief was steadfast in every one.

“I was thinking more about training, getting the right combination for training,” he said.

“As we’ve always said, mate, we’re a team that’s working a lot on its own belief.

“We have been since last year, (growing) belief in the individual and  belief in ourselves as a collective.

So, we know we can try to achieve things.

“Every player that’ll be running around at training today will be someone that we’d be proud to put out to play for Australia and they’ll be ready as well.

“In saying that, we’ve got a very good idea in our head of what we’re going to do but as we always do, we like to let the week unfold and just see what happens.”