Wallabies coach Michael Cheika wasn’t necessarily expecting Simon RaIwalui to be Australia’s next forwards coach, but as the interview process went on, he was sure he had the right man.
Though the pair have never worked together before, their rugby paths have intersected, first with club rugby run-ins and then as opposition coaches in France, and on Monday it became official that Raiwalui would become part of the Wallabies fold.
Raiwalui played for Manly in the 1990s, when Cheika was playing for Randwick, and though Cheika was coy on their clashes, it seems his newest assistant had the better of his new boss physically.
“I don’t want to say too much but he told me a couple of stories about when we used to play together; him, me, my brother, a few other guys,” he said.
“I didn’t really remember but then I thought about it, and then I thought, ‘Oh yeah, okay. Now I am remember who you are’.
“He is a pretty imposing character. He is a big unit. I remember him on the field.
“Back in the day, it was always physical. No-one was going to the sin-bin (back then), that’s for sure.
“He obviously has a good reputation down Manly way.”
Raiwalui wasn’t one of the first names on Cheika’s list but a conversation with Gonzalo Quesada put the former Marlin on his radar.
Quesada has coached alongside Raiwalui in France and suggested to Cheika that the Fiji international would be an interesting option.
“(We) spoke about it by chance, we were talking about the position because we knew Mario was headed off at that point,” he said.
“I added him to the list, just thinking that (he) would be someone that would be good to investigate, know a bit more about because he hasn't been around Australia for a fair while.
“Every discussion I've had with him, he just put himself forward as the right for what we need.”
Cheika admitted Raiwalui’s appointment may come as a surprise, with plenty of names thrown about before the announcement, but he was confident he had the right person.
“I know he was probably not a name many people expected to come forward in this choice,” he said.
“I started talking to people after the tour and I've gone through a few different rounds and I was really pleased with the options we had and I suppose there could've been a couple more straight forward choices but Simon I just think is the right fit for exactly what we want.”
Raiwalui will join the Wallabies when Biarritz’s season finishes, possibly as late as May.
The Wallabies open their 2018 season with a June Series against Ireland on June 9. Buy tickets here.