Cheika and Townsend in familiar territory

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

It’s been a while, but this Saturday’s clash won’t be the first time Gregor Townsend and Michael Cheika have gone toe-to-toe in Sydney.

Townsend played two seasons in Australia, in 1993 and 1995, among some of the best in the country.

Townsend and Cheika overlapped in their Shute Shield careers, with Townsend recently sent a photo of the pair facing off when the Rats met Randwick during their playing days.

The pair faced off twice in that 1993 season, in a regular round and in the semi-final, with Townsend returning to Scotland for final exams before the 1993 preliminary final, Cheika recalling their clashes on Thursday.

"He was excellent - it was really good because I remember the Rats had (lock Abdel) Benazzi came out from France and so you think they're going to bring out the big huge second rower after that and they bring out Gregor," he laughed.

"But he was pretty nimble and he did pretty well.

"I was always trying to chase him and get a hold of him but I couldn't catch him.

Gregor Townsend in action for Rats in 1993. Photo: Supplied"He's done very well in coaching and it's great that he's coaching the Scottish team now.

"I'm sure we're going to be in for a few good tussles going forward."

Townsend was recently sent a photo of the pair that reflects Cheika's version of events, with the Wallabies coach on the tail of the current Scotland mentor.

“He’s in the back there, Abdel Benazzi is in the background as well,” he said.

“The Randwick team in those days - in ‘93 Campo was still playing, Lloyd Walker, some brilliant handlers.

“Cheik was playing as well. He’s a bit older than me but I did come up against him on the field.”

It’s a stint that he said had coloured his philosophy on rugby, bringing a faster, more attack-heavy style to his Northern Hemisphere sides.

“It’s great to come back here and I enjoyed the people, the experience, but the rugby was very aligned to my thoughts on rugby,” he said.

“It was playing top of the ground, moving the ball quickly.

"I was very, very impressed with the handling ability of the Australian midfield backs even back then. It’s only got better since the game has been professional.

“The fact they played on the gain line, the fact they wanted to move the ball.

“This was a philosophy going through every club we came up against and even the mentality (was similar) - laidback before a game but tough and into it once the game started."

The Scotland coach hasn’t forgotten his time at the Rats, set to meet up with his former Warringah teammates this week and tweeting his condolences over the recent passing of fifth-grade player Lachlan Ward.

“I’m going to be seeing my mates from Warringah tomorrow and it’s been great being back here and I’m looking forward to the game as much as the players,” he said.

A win for Scotland would be a major boon, Townsend said, with their last victory against the Wallabies in Newcastle in 2012, though their past five matches have all been decided by less than a converted try.

“It’d be great to win and it’d be a huge boost to this group of players and to Scottish rugby as a whole,” he said.

“We’re playing the Wallabies in Australia and they’re full-strength.

“It’s a great challenge for us, we believe we can win and it’ll be fantastic.”

The Wallabies take on Scotland in Sydney on Saturday, kicking off at 3pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO. Buy tickets here.