Exclusive: Why Michael Cheika is coaching against the Wallabies with Ledesma's Pumas

Fri, Sep 25, 2020, 8:25 AM
Christy Doran
by Christy Doran
Michael Cheika says he felt compelled to coach alongside his friend Mario Ledesma and Argentina. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley
Michael Cheika says he felt compelled to coach alongside his friend Mario Ledesma and Argentina. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

Michael Cheika says he felt compelled to help Argentina out after the sacrifice they've made to see The Rugby Championship go ahead.

The former Wallabies coach, who resigned following Australia's quarter-final exit at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, was announced as an external advisor with Argentina for November's six-week tournament in Australia.

As such, his time with the Sydney Roosters, where he's worked as a consultant under friend Trent Robinson, has come to an end for 2020 but Cheika will continue to work behind the scenes with the NRL powerhouse club going forward.

The idea to join Argentina for The Rugby Championship was floated by his good friend and Pumas head coach Mario Ledesma, who worked alongside Cheika at the 2015 World Cup with the Wallabies, earlier in the year.

Cheika previously said he would never coach against a side that he's coached, but said he felt a responsibility to help Argentina grow, particularly in this COVID-19 period where the Pumas haven't been able to play since the suspension of Super Rugby back in March.

"Put it this way, I'm very very loyal in that way," Cheika told RUGBY.com.au.

"When my kids found out yesterday, the little one's asked me, 'Who do we go for?' They'll be going for Australia.

"I think considering what Argentina is doing for the game coming here, no footy at all under their belt this year, short-runway to play six Test matches in a row, I think it's a huge effort from their players.

"They've been in a bubble in Argentina, now they're in one in Uruguay, they're going to be away from home for a long time, they've got players coming from Europe, they've had to go through a heap already so they can play footy and keep the competition going and make it happen."

Few are giving Argentina a chance of being competitive during this year's Rugby Championship, but Cheika said the competition went beyond results in 2020.

"I think Mario and the Argentinian Union and his team and players, we don't hear much about it here and there's a lot of talk about what people are giving up, they've not said 'boo' and they may not have won the Championship before but they're huge contributors in the way they play the game and they make the competition as well," Cheika said.

"I think for me to have an opportunity, even though I'm not the head coach, but to help them and help this happen in Australia is definitely worth while.

"I just think it's the right thing to do and have some fun as well.

"I love the Argentinian mentality and they've had such a great history around the game, to have the chance to help them out, especially in Australia my home country, and make this Championship happen you couldn't ask for much more. What an opportunity."

Cheika said it was a massive coup for Australian rugby to host the Championship.

"It's great for Australia that the games are here," he said.

"They did a really great job in getting the games here.

"I was so pleased when they (Rugby Australia) went out to bat for it and they brought it here. The more noise we can make the Championship being here, double-headers the better. More chance for us to win the World Cup if we can show that we can do this during a difficult period here in Australia."

Cheika has spent the bulk of 2020 working alongside the Roosters.

He said the experience had been worthwhile for his coaching development and added that it cemented some thoughts too.

"It's been an unbelievable experience to be involved with the Roosters," Cheika said.
"I had pre-season and then I didn't go into the bubble when they first came back from COVID because I had some business on, but I've spent the last eight weeks there before this weekend. It's been unreal and I want to thank them for letting me be involved there.

"Obviously I've known Trent for a long time and I know how he operates. It confirmed for me what I've always known that once you have a group aligned, from the owner, so Nick Politis, through his board down through the commercial into the coach, captain and that aligns what the club's about and what the goals are, what success looks like and he leads that very well."

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