Cheika unwavering in chase of Bledisloe, World Cup glory

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he felt the pain of the Bledisloe Cup loss in Sydney as deeply as anyone after seeing his two kids in tears in the tunnel post-match.

Through the emotional impact of the first Test defeat and subsequent calls for his sacking, Cheika remains unwavering in his belief that the Wallabies can not only win the second Test, but claim World Cup glory as well.

The heart on his sleeve coach has been the focal point of public backlash to the Wallabies' latest loss to the All Blacks and while he said he didn't feel any added pressure to perform, Cheika's critics will only grow in size and volume if Australia surrender the Bledisloe Cup again this Saturday at Eden Park.

Wallabies players came out in defence of Cheika on Tuesday after veteran rugby scribe Greg Growden wrote a column calling for the coach and his staff to be sacked ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup to salvage any hope of winning the tournament.

Michael Cheika has come under fire in the wake of another Sydney Bledisloe defeat. Photo: Rugby Australia/Marty CambridgeBut Cheika said he was not concerned about the criticism, mainly because he is already his own hardest marker.

"I’ll tell you now, there’s no one hurting more than me than when I walk down the tunnel and I see my two kids there crying," Cheika told Australian media on Waiheke Island.

"So it is built on emotion, there’s emotions for us as well. But we’ve got to try to keep it clear with what we’re doing.

"For me, I feel no matter who is throwing rocks, I’m in a good place because I’m always the hardest critic on myself.

"Whatever (Growden) could have said to me, I’ve said it to myself already, and recovered from it and feel stronger for it to go back and turn the negative into a positive – call me crazy."

Turning that negative into a positive is the only way to remain in the hunt for the Bledisloe come Saturday, at a venue where the Wallabies haven't won a Bledisloe Cup Test match since 1986.

The Wallabies turned around a heavy defeat last year to almost upset the All Blacks in Dunedin, when most tipped another big loss. 

Asked if he'd seen the sort of response he desired at training in the past 48 hours, Cheika said: "Yes, but I saw the (intensity) last week as well."

"There’s been a lot more edge around the training from everyone, players, coaches, that’s good," he continued.

"This is part of it, this is what happens in footy. You get hurt sometimes, and you get back up and keep going.

"There’s those who can hold their nerve and those who can’t, and I’d like to think I’m someone who can hold my nerve in these situations, keep the team confident, and believe we can go out there this weekend and win.

"I know that you guys don’t think that, but I think we can.

"So it is built on emotion, there’s emotions for us as well. But we’ve got to try to keep it clear with what we’re doing.


Disillusioned fans have expressed their frustrations about the Wallabies' apparent lack of progress in the years after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup is just over a year away and Cheika said he remains convinced the Wallabies are still on the path to success, even if it has contained potholes and rough patches. 

"I’ve always had a plan about what I want to do," Cheika said.

"Sometimes you get bumps that take you a different course, you lose players, different things happen along the way and you’ve got to be able to adjust to that.

 

"But when you know exactly where you’re headed, it makes it a little easier to deal with those things because you can stay on track.

"We’ve had to take a lot of bullets across this time of building a bit more depth.

"I think we are getting that now.

"More focus, more concentration, deliver on the nights, and go from there."

Jack Maddocks is a likely starter in Auckland. Photo: Rugby Australia/Marty CambridgeCheika raised the fact the Wallabies had beaten New Zealand last year in Brisbane when pressed as to whether his side was good enough to win Bledisloe and World Cup crowns.

"You weren’t saying this in October of last year," he said.

"And I’m not saying we don’t merit that type of response, I’m certainly not thinking we don’t merit a negative response – of course we do.

"But you’ve always got to understand that consistency of performance is built over a period of time with experience, and that’s what we’re building to.

"If you are looking for an answer - it’s about playing at our best for more consistent periods."

 

On a personnel front Cheika rated Taniela Tupou a 50-50 chance of lining up on Saturday, having taken part in scrummaging and lineout drills on Tuesday.

 

Scott Sio has done full sessions on both Monday and Tuesday and is a more likely inclusion.

 

The Wallabies face the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday, kicking off at 5:35pm AEST, 7:35pm local, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS and Channel Ten.