'That made us believe a lot more': How Cheika helped Los Pumas make history by beating the All Blacks

Tri Nations
by Christy Doran

“What are you waiting for - you’ve got everything.”

And with those words of encouragement, Michael Cheika helped sow the belief Los Pumas would use to topple the All Blacks, according to captain Pablo Matera.

Amongst the many storylines from the Pumas’ maiden Test victory over the All Blacks on Saturday, the influence of Cheika – the maligned figure in Australian rugby after his unceremonious departure from the Wallabies coaching role following last year’s World Cup quarter-final exit – was glossed over.

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While head coach Mario Ledesma and his players quite rightly earned plaudits for their inspiring and skillful takedown of the All Blacks, their victory had Cheika’s fingerprints all over it.

Los Pumas were ferocious in contact and dominant in the tackle, but nowhere was Cheika’s influence on the field felt more than in the passion and siege-mentality that the South Americans played with – the hallmarks of the Australian during his two-decades coaching.

Speaking after the incredible 25-15 win in Sydney’s west, Matera said that Cheika had given his side the belief to go out and beat the All Blacks for the first time in their 35-year history.

“I’m not going to talk about the whole experience that he has as a coach and all the things that he can bring to the game. But seeing us as a team from the outside, he just came the first day and said, ‘what are you waiting for - you’ve got everything’,” Matera said.

“You’ve got big players, physical players, young players, a lot of energy - go and take it. Just go and take it, what are you waiting for?

"And I think that made us believe a lot more in ourselves, so it’s been great to have him around.

“It’s not just about the rugby thing, he feels the game in a special way too.”

The former Wallabies coach, who didn’t seek a contract extension following last year’s World Cup quarter-final exit, accepted an invitation from Ledesma in September to join him for the Tri Nations campaign.

His decision to do so shocked many, particularly after he told The Times that he would never coach against a former side of his, but this was a case of Cheika returning the favour to a long-time friend and coaching colleague.

Ledesma had been Cheika’s scrum coach with the Wallabies until 2017, when he asked his Australian colleague if he could return to Argentina. Cheika didn’t think twice about it.

The Pumas great was the heart and soul of Argentinian rugby and it was his responsibility to take their Super Rugby side, the Jaguares, forward.

Less than a year later, Ledesma was the Pumas coach too and the duo have remained close friends, speaking weekly.

Cheika – the fiery figure who has often made observers laugh with his displays of passion and frustration in coaching boxes around the world - has often been said to have some South American blood running through his veins.

But Ledesma said that Cheika was a calm figure in the Bankwest Stadium box on Saturday and took pleasure out of seeing the Pumas perform.

“He was pretty calm. There’s a camera there, just watch it,” Ledesma said.

“He was pretty calm and he was pretty happy for us because he’s experienced what we’ve been through. We started doing zooms and teams and meetings long ago with Cheik and the players.

“He saw the conditions we were training in, and then when we had to quarantine for some reason he couldn’t be on the pitch with us so he was looking from a box and then we were doing zooms with him. Then when we went out the other group came and we couldn’t be together, so he experienced a lot of the things that we were living. So he was really, really happy for us.”

Having helped Los Pumas topple the All Blacks, Cheika will now turn his attention to taking down the Wallabies, with the two nations to take on each other in Newcastle on November 21.

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