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Angry Cheika lays down the law to wayward Wallabies

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Australian Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika

Australian Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika

REUTERS

Australian Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika

Michael Cheika hasn't even had to raise his voice this week but his players can still see the anger seeping through after another significant set-back for Australian rugby last weekend.

Defeat against a brutishly physical French pack last weekend once more exposed the soft underbelly of a national side that, aside from displays on the field that have limped from the meek to weak, has lurched from crisis to farce off the field.

Cheika, who wrought significant changes in the psyche of both Leinster and the NSW Waratahs, becoming the first coach to win Heineken Cup and Super Rugby titles, has now been charged with rendering the same results with the beleaguered Wallabies.

A below-par performance against the French which, if replicated, would surely see them succumb to an Irish team buoyant after rolling over the feared Springboks earlier this month, would reveal just how difficult a task the former Leinster favourite faces just a year out from the World Cup.

And, although Australia face England in ten days time - along with Wales, the trio will fight for two quarter-finals slots in next year's World Cup - Cheika's lingering, seething disappointment with the French result will ensure that he does everything in his power to prevail against Ireland.

"He doesn't do it to make anyone angry or sad or put people down," explains lock Rob Simmons. "He just wants the best out of us. He hates losing.

"Nobody's happy about losing. He's the king-pin. He's the boss. He's honest and genuine and comes across in that way. He lets everyone know what he is thinking and what he wants for the team to best move forward.

"It's not just about getting angry. It seems like he's angry, he raises his voice. But he also lowers his voice. It's part of that emotional wave that he's trying to get that reaction to be better.

"He wants everyone to be better and when he's explaining things that's how it comes across. He's trying to solve the problem."

The problems are manifold. Australia are still viewed as an enigma of the international game, brimming with wonderful, individual talent but lacking a steely edge when the chips are down.

In the aftermath of the texting scandal involving the now repatriated Kurtley Beale - the archetypal Aussie enigma - Cheika (pictured) steers a side for whom their last visit to Dublin 12 months ago was remembered for an infamous drinking session that unearthed the rank indiscipline in this side.

And just as Cheika steamrollered his cultural revolution at Leinster, upbraiding even the Brian O'Driscolls of his then underachieving squad, so too must he inveigle himself as an insistent disciplinarian with his national side.

From banning headphones in the dressing-rooms, mobile phones at dinner and walking between training drills, Cheika is working the team hard in training; "so they'll be too tired to go out," he has said laconically.

The players have no alternative but to buy into his ascetic philosophy, while at the same time maintaining his desire for entertaining rugby with a hard-edged pack.

"It's about stepping up," adds Simmons. "They're not rules. But it does bring us together. He does those kind of things because he wants the squad to knit. It's not about having one individual over here and another over there.

"He wants us to get together and be together, always be together and know each other inside out. So when you're on the field, and the tough times come, you know what you're going to get from each other.

"It's the old saying, a team is always going to beat the individual. Nobody is bigger than the game. He knows that. It's not about enforcing rules.

Culture

"That's how he thinks things should be and everyone is happy to buy that. Because we want to win as well.

"We know we've got the talent. I suppose that culture is all part of knitting together as a team and once we become a one-page team and that every individual knows where everyone else is going as a team we can basically beat anyone."

Cheika is likely to encounter around half of his former team - aside from his anointed successor as coach - this weekend and Simmons readily admits that, while Australia don't care about the opposition, only the result, his new coach has already imparted a raft of valuable inside information.

"It's going to be vital," he says. "He's made it quite well-known how well he knows some of the players and what they'll be looking to do. That will help us prepare for the game.

"They're both clever coaches. He won't play mind games and I'm not sure of his exact relationship with Joe Schmidt. At the end of the day, he just wants to win.

"He doesn't hide that at all. Those tactics aren't even hidden. It's about what we do and doing that to the best of our ability."

Irish Independent