Sunday 17 November 2019

Cheika: Stuart presence could unsettle England

Cheika: Mind games. Photo: AP Photo/Christophe Ena
Cheika: Mind games. Photo: AP Photo/Christophe Ena

Daniel Schofield

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika has questioned Eddie Jones's decision to invite Australian rugby league coach Ricky Stuart into the England camp just days before the countries' World Cup quarter-final.

Stuart, a close friend of Cheika, arrived at England's training camp in Miyazaki on Thursday having just guided the Canberra Raiders to the NRL Grand Final. Jones, the England head coach, hopes that Stuart will offer a fresh perspective.

Yet, citing his own friendship with England football manager Gareth Southgate, Cheika suggested that bringing an outsider into their camp at such a crucial juncture could unsettle the players. "Obviously, they'd be mates, I imagine," Cheika said. "I'm friends with Gareth Southgate and I don't know if I'd be wanting him in here the week that we're playing England.

"It must be weird for the players having an Aussie, because Ricky is a legend. He has played dual-code internationals. Tough man, had a great season with the Raiders, unreal, they played such good footie."

Cheika met Southgate at a coaching conference in Minneapolis before the 2018 Super Bowl. Despite their contrasting personalities and backgrounds, an unlikely connection was born. "We had a great old time," Cheika said. "He was a lovely chap. I really like his style." By contrast, Cheika described his relationship with Jones, his former team-mate at Randwick, as "fine", although he added: "I don't see him very much."

Their previous meetings as opposing coaches have produced back-and-forths through the media that have ranged from friendly to feisty. Jones, however, has always had the last word, having won all six of his encounters with Cheika's Wallabies.

Cheika yesterday dismissed that record as "irrelevant", adding: "Looking backwards is only going to give you a sore neck. We've got opportunities this week and we've got to take them. I am just a believer. Call me a sucker. I know there are other people who won't give us a chance. But when you do believe in yourself, you are much closer to being able to create history."

Cheika mostly kept his powder dry in his discussion of Jones, but could not resist a couple of sly digs, suggesting England got an "early heads up" on the cancellation of their fixture against France that allowed them to move their training base to Miyazaki.

A detached Cheika also claims to have done no analysis on England.

On his own team, Cheika denied that he had any uncertainty around his fly-half selection.

Christian Lealiifano, Matt Toomua and Bernard Foley all started matches in the No 10 shirt during the pool stages. Yet Cheika indicated that was always the plan.

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