Cheika not on the hunt for reinforcements

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika won’t be tempted to rush Christian Lealiifano back into the Test fold just yet, as the Test group begins its Bledisloe preparations in earnest.

The Wallabies’ Brumbies contingent will join the group later this week but Cheika said he wouldn’t be calling upon Lealiifano, who made his Super Rugby comeback less than a year after a Leukaemia diagnosis.

Cheika said he wouldn’t be tempted to bring Lealiifano into Wallabies camp, after just half a Super Rugby game but also didn’t expect the playmaker would be interested just yet.

Christian Lealiifano in action for the first time since 2016. Photo: Getty Images“I don’t think he’d want to, to be honest,” he said.

“I think he’d want to stay at home and maybe play a bit of club footy as well and get a bit of rhythm into playing regular football again. “

Cheika was at the Brumbies quarter-final last weekend, and said he admired Lealiifano immensely.

“You don’t even need to look at the (performance) it’s the effort of actually being there and being involved in the team and playing,” he said.

“It’s pretty awesome effort really.

“I’m in awe of the guy and how he’s been able to do it. Obviously he’s had a lot of help from his friends.

“They’ve kept him going and kept him strong, and obviously his family.

“He’s a quality person and just the way he’s operated with hat team, stayed with the team and shown that great personality and character that he has.

“He pretty much shows it was always going to happen, a guy like him he was always going to do it.”

Michael Cheika spoke to media in Newcastle on Monday. Photo: ARU MediaThe Brumbies’ 35-16 quarter-final loss to the Hurricanes means Cheika has his whole squad together for three weeks leading into the first Bledisloe, but the Wallabies coach doesn’t see any silver lining in that.

“I would’ve rather them playing footy,” he said.

“We want an Australian team to be up there first - they really played well that first 55 minutes.

“They were in their face and then just a few errors cost them in the end.

“I felt for Bernie (Stephen Larkham), (it was) his last game there, and he puts his heart and soul into that team.

“Would’ve been great for him and our confidence as a whole for them to go in there but we’ll take the positive out of that now and try and get everyone together.”

Karmichael Hunt’s ankle injury potentially shifts the dynamic of the backline but Cheika said there would be no immediate return for Quade Cooper despite Hunt’s absence.

Kurtley Beale is shaping up as the first-choice 12 but would also be the second-best option at 10.

“I wouldn’t be bringing anyone in for Karmichael,” Cheika said.

“We’ve got quite a big squad here so the concept is these guys are the players at the national level that we’re interested in, so we’re looking out for their fitness, medical, make sure they’re up to date, even once they leave the squad,” he said.

“It’s not just, ‘Try and make the squad,’ - we’ll take this bigger group right the way through until the end of November, so even when they’re back playing NRC, in those competitions that we’re still making sure there’s a certain fitness load and I suppose knowledge of our place so if they ever drop back in straight away that’ll happen.”

Cooper is currently overseas on holiday, but would likely play a stint in the NRC for Brisbane City.