Wallabies must win to bring the fans back: Cheika

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Michael Cheika's mind wanders back to Australia when his side are playing abroad.

Playing on the other side of the world means kick-off is typically in the wee hours of the morning in Australia and fans must be dedicated to the cause to watch every match.

The clash with South Africa is a prime example.

The kick off is at 1:05am AEST, and rugby fans will have a choice.

Grab the phone and check scores in the morning or set an alarm, get up and watch the Wallabies tackle the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.

It's the dedicated fans who choose the latter which Cheika wants his side to keep at the forefront of their minds.

"There are fans that we have no matter what, and I am hearing from them every day," Cheika said.

"They are the ones who are there supporting us more than anything and they are the people that we want to do well for in the first instance.

"They're saying to keep at it, they're there.

"And there are others that aren't like that.

"They just want the team to do well.

"People are bitter because they want the team to do well and I am never going to begrudge anyone that."

The fans who sleep through to the morning can only be won back by success.

Those wins are hard to come by in The Rugby Championship and particularly scarce on the road.

That leaves the Wallabies - who are $4 underdogs this weekend - in a tough situation in Port Elizabeth.

They are up against a Springboks side flying high with confidence after a remarkable win over New Zealand in Wellington, but Cheika believes his side have the toughness to survive the storm.

"Tough situations will come and go and the tough people won't (go)," he said.

"They will stay and they will do their best to make sure the people we want supporting us.

"I know we cop a lot of flak but these lads are trying their hearts out.

"When it doesn't go right it's tough but you have to be tough.

"The situation will go away once you show you are tough and that you can stand it out and to do what is necessary to see it through and come out the other side better and on top.

"I see how hard the guys work every week.

"How hard they train - their heads are down and they are trying to get the right things done.

"I'm sure that if they stay focused on exactly what they need to do on Saturday good things will come to them."

The Australian toughness this Sunday must start in defence.

The Wallabies missed 21 tackles in the first half against the Pumas.

Those missed tackles set a terrible tone and 40 minutes later Argentina were celebrating their first win on Australian soil in 35 years.

Not one to dwell on the past, Cheika turned the equation on its head.

"A great form of defence is attack," he said.

"Let's try to keep them occupied with some of the business we are bringing and make it a little bit harder for them to concentrate on their own.

"That comes from everyone in our team.

"Knowing what their role is and bringing that with a lot of energy.

"Getting set up earlier than the opposition, being there ahead of things, being there waiting for things to start and wanting them to start so you can get involved."

The energy Cheika speaks of was evident in South Africa's drought breaking win in Wellington.

Wave after wave of All Blacks attack in the final quarter was repelled by desperate yet measured South African defence which left nothing in the tank.

But while they were given no hope by most Cheika was not surprised by the result.

"It doesn't surprise me that they can go over and do that at all," he said.

"Good team. To me that's not unexpected.

"I know it is unexpected for most people but I don't see it like that.

"That's what happens when you turn up on the day and you are ready to go.

"Anything can happen in this game."

Cheika's side must turn up and be ready to go from the first whistle on Sunday.

If they are there will be more and more televisions lighting up in the post-midnight hours in the weeks and months to come.

"Talk is cheap. It's on the field where it's going to happen," he said.

"I can make all the messages I like but I'm not a politician.

"I'm a rugby coach and the politicking is done on the field.

"I get it, mate. Like I said it's been tough.

"(The fans) are only hurting because they want the team to do well.

"Not because they are bitter or anything like that.

"We play well, fans will be there.

"All I want to do is play good footy, make them proud and there will be none of that chat anymore.

"I want the game to prosper in Australia more than anybody.

"And I understand that the team playing well is a beacon for that type of stuff.

"I am doing everything I can to make sure that happens."

The Wallabies face the Springboks in Port Elizabeth on Sunday morning AEST, kicking off at 1:05am, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and Channel Ten.