Sport Autumn Internationals

Thursday 30 March 2017

Values Cheika instilled at Leinster are bedrock of the Wallaby way

Cheika: Abrasive and direct. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Cheika: Abrasive and direct. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The last time Michael Cheika brought his Australia side to these shores, it allowed the former Leinster coach a chance to pay a visit to his old stomping ground.

While there were still plenty of familiar faces around Leinster's UCD base, the environment and the facilities within it were a world away from what Cheika encountered when he first arrived in the province in 2005.

The hard-nosed Cheika had his own ideas about how the club should be run, but his coaching CV didn't exactly inspire confidence in every quarter, with Leinster's chief executive Mick Dawson even admitting that his appointment was a "calculated punt."

A Magners League title in his third season in charge (2008) was followed a year later by the Heineken Cup and thus began Leinster's dominance in Europe.

"It was great, considering I was heavily involved in getting all that ready. It is just a sign of how far the club has come as well," Cheika said two years ago after his visit to UCD.

"They gave me the opportunity. No-one would have given a hobo like me the opportunity to come and coach, especially in the situation they were."

Three days after his trip down memory lane, his Wallabies side were edged out 26-23 in an enthralling contest at the Aviva Stadium.

Cheika gets a second crack at Ireland this weekend and with it, another opportunity to catch up with some old friends.

Cheika's children have Irish passports and the 49-year old has always been grateful to Leinster for taking a chance on him. From speaking to people within the club, it is clear that the goodwill is very much mutual.

"A lot has been said about how Cheiks came in and changed the culture within Leinster," scrum coach John Fogarty said yesterday.

"From one season to the next, himself and (Mike) Brewer did a great job. In Leinster, there were changes happening anyway with the playing group.

"He certainly put his mark on the team. They were certainly very abrasive, very direct in that they weren't going to get managed in games physically.

"It stood to Leinster very, very well. He left a big mark on Leinster Rugby. I'm sure a lot of people here will be glad to see him back."

Eleven years after Cheika joined Leinster, his CV is now the envy of plenty of coaches across the world.

After his five-year spell in Leinster ended, two years in France with Stade Francais was followed by a return home to become the Waratahs head coach.

A mid-table finish in his first season in charge posed more questions than answers but a year later, Cheika guided the Waratahs to their first Super Rugby title after they beat the Crusaders in a thrilling final.

The national side soon came calling and Cheika picked up the pieces with the Wallabies after Ewen McKenzie's shock resignation. Earlier this year he was rewarded with a contract extension that will see him through until the 2019 World Cup.

In the summer, a historic series whitewash defeat to England on home soil didn't exactly go down well in Australia and neither did the fact that the Wallabies were no match for New Zealand, who on their way to winning the Rugby Championship, claimed 30 out of a possible 30 points.

Cheika copped his fair share of the flak and will feel as if he has something of a point to prove, especially after being handed a new contract.

Having rested several of his frontliners for the win over France last weekend, Cheika is set to unleash his big guns for Saturday's clash in Dublin as Australia look to maintain their 100pc winning record in their November series.

"They are incredibly competitive. They want to win. They are very intense and that's in every interaction you will have with them," Fogarty described Cheika's sides.

Although he never played under Cheika, Mike McCarthy came up against his teams several times during his years with Connacht.

McCarthy relishes the physical aspect of the game and he knows that Cheika demands an intensity from his players that is always difficult to play against.

"He's real big on his physicality. He wants them to be extremely physical and front up. He will be looking for them to have a strong set-piece," McCarthy said.

The values that Cheika worked so tirelessly to instil during his five years at Leinster remain the bedrock of what this Australian team are all about.

His famed 'tough love' approach has been the making of several top players down through the years. It may also prove to be what gets the Wallabies back on track.

Irish Independent

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