What the? Cheika to coach against Wallabies with Argentina

The Rugby Championship
by Christy Doran

The man that said he would never coach against his country will do just that, with former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika agreeing to team up with his former assistant and long-standing friend Mario Ledesma during The Rugby Championship.

The Argentine Rugby Union made the announcement on Thursday, just hours after the controversial schedule for The Rugby Championship was announced by SANZAAR.

Cheika resigned as Wallabies coach following last year's World Cup quarter-final exit.

It was a spectacular fall from grace for the 2015 World Rugby Coach of the Year, who famously picked the Wallabies off the canvas in 2014 and saw them climb the standings the next year as they first won The Rugby Championship and then lost in the World Cup Final against the All Blacks.

Cheika will serve as an external advisor for Ledesma's Pumas, who are expected to face life tough Down Under given their Super Rugby side, the Jaguares, wasn't able to play another match following the suspension of the regular competition in March.

Ledesma said the idea was planted earlier in the year, but the decision for Australia to host the TRC meant it was a match made in heaven.

"With Michael (Cheika) we started talking at the beginning of the year," Ledesma said.

"I proposed to him the idea of working together again and he was immediately interested. We agreed from the first moment. I noticed [he was] very excited. He always liked Argentine rugby a lot.

"He is a person who can bring us a lot of experience both to the group of players and to the staff. As was the incorporation of Tano (Marcelo Loffreda), in the first days of August. Undoubtedly, it is an excellent opportunity to continue learning because he is a person who thinks a lot about things outside the box who has an innovative and super creative vision, different from that of many coaches that I could cross.

"In addition, when the Championship was confirmed in Australia, we were able to dialogue and listen to their recommendations about places to train, schedules and even issues related to the weather.

"For his part, we have already been conducting several talks with him and the entire staff, about issues of the game, defense, attack, types of exercises, individual techniques and others. So that exchange was spectacular."


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But it was only in May he said he wouldn't coach against his former side, any team he's coached in fact.

“I’ve always felt that I couldn’t ever go back and coach against a team I’ve already coached," Cheika said in a wide-ranging interview with The Times.

"I feel that’s almost being a traitor; I know this is probably not very cool or modern day professional. But that’s been in my mind with a couple of conversations I’ve had in France.

“You could say, ‘I am going to show them (Rugby Australia),’ ” he continued, “but I’m never going to go against them. That’s my country. They are my guys. That’s the jersey my kids wear. Obviously the management didn’t like me, for one reason or another and that’s how they approached it.”

Ledesma and Cheika have worked together for the best part of a decade.

The duo started coaching together at Stade Francais and later the Argentinian served as the Wallabies' scrum coach from 2015 to 2017.

After leaving the Wallabies at the end of 2017, Ledesma coached the Jaguares before taking over from Daniel Hourcade as the Pumas coach.

Argentina, in last year's pool of death against France and England, didn't qualify for the finals and were controversially denied a late penalty against France that could have seen them progress to the last eight.

Since stepping down as Wallabies coach, Cheika has worked as a consultant for the Sydney Roosters in the NRL.

He has been linked to a number of jobs overseas, including in England and France.

The Wallabies face the Pumas in Rounds 3 and 4 of the Rugby Championship, at Sydney's ANZ Stadium and then in Newcastle respectively.