'The fans are everything'

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says the fans are the most critical part of his team’s Bledisloe Cup campaign and Saturday’s opening Bledisloe Test is a chance to show that.

Having watched the All Blacks hold up the cup every year since 2003, the Wallabies have a sense of debt to repay to their hardy faithful.

With just one home Bledisloe Cup Test this season, and a 15-year drought in New Zealand, a win in Saturday’s opener could prove pivotal for Australia but Cheika said they weren’t preoccupied by their record across the ditch.

Rather, Cheika said,  it was the potential “energiser” effect an opening win could have on Australian rugby that was the major benefit.

“It's (the first Test) important but not for that reason, because we're worried we won't win over there,” he said.

“You can't win the series [if] you have that mindset.

“It's important because we want to play well against the best team in the world and I think we saw last year when we had the win in Sydney what an energizer it was for Australian rugby fans and how proud they were after that in that game.

"I believe in the lads a lot, I see how hard they work and just the things they do off the field little bits and pieces that people don't' see in the background, where they've been around the team and these last few weeks have really reinforced that to me.”

The Wallabies want to repay their fans. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyWallabies vice-captain Michael Hooper said on Sunday that finally taking the Cup back would be as much for spectators as the players and Cheika echoed those thoughts on Monday.

“The fans are everything,” he said.

“That's who we're playing the game for.

“I know that, yes, we have ourselves and families and all the things that are close to us but it's the people who support the team that are the ones that deserve anything that come of the games and so for us one step at a time.

“We'll just look at the Sydney game first, we'll just prepare everything we can to make sure they're trying to go home with a smile on their face.”

While Cheika has been swift to point out that external perception has swung entirely New Zealand’s way after a 3-0 June Test series loss for the Wallabies, but said there was still a strong faith within the team.

“We've come off the back of a fair few years  of indifferent performances and over the last 18 months ,we've been really trying to build it (belief) into, not just the guys who are starting but in a bigger group of players.

“When you're doing that you'll come up against resistance sometimes or things that may not go well but that doesn't mean you stop, you've got to push through it.

“You need mental fortitude and there's no better place to test mental fortitude than against New Zealand.”

Wallabies winger Rob Horne said he expected the Australian public to get behind the Wallabies on Saturday, despite their spot in the pecking order.

“I’ve been watching a fair bit of the Olympics and I think whenever Australia competes, Australia gets behind you,” he said.

“We're looking forward to Saturday night, having that similar support and we just want to make all Australians proud and it's the unique opportunity you get in sport where you get to touch people's lives like that and if we can do that on Saturday, we'll be pretty happy.”