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Cheika Prepares For Toughest Year Of His Life

Canberra: Stephanie Cheika looms as Australia’s trump card as her husband, Michael, the Wallabies’ latest coaching saviour, takes an audacious shot at Rugby World Cup glory in 2015. Thrust into
03 Jan 2015 10:49
Cheika Prepares For Toughest  Year Of His Life

Canberra: Stephanie Cheika looms as Australia’s trump card as her husband, Michael, the Wallabies’ latest coaching saviour, takes an audacious shot at Rugby World Cup glory in 2015.

Thrust into the role less than 11 months out from the start of the global showpiece, Michael Cheika has been charged with returning the Webb Ellis Cup to Australian shores for the first time since the Eddie Jones-coached Wallabies relinquished it to England in 2003.

John Connolly and Robbie Deans have each tried and failed to regain the silverware, both unable to claim Bledisloe Cup victory let alone World Cup success, while Ewen McKenzie failed in two Bledisloe series before resigning a little more than 15 months into his scheduled four-year reign. So the task is not for the faint hearted, yet Cheika has taken it on with a limited eight-Test preparation – with all the usual expectation – but while also presiding over New South Wales Waratahs’ first Super Rugby title defence.

But wait, there’s more.

Cheika will attempt to pull off an unprecedented coaching double in 2015 while managing four toddlers at home. And that is why he acknowledges Stephanie as the most important “player” in the entire Wallabies operation, the only certain selection each and every week, for he admits he cannot juggle the demands of family with state and national coaching responsibilities without his wife.

“For sure, she’s behind me 100%,” Cheika said ahead of the busiest year of his life.

“And she understands that’s what it’s going to take, and I’m very lucky that I can get that type of support. I’ve really got to get Super organised and then leave that and then get fully into that Wallabies mode for the World Cup.”

Cheika jokes about once publicly committing to “110%” to the Waratahs and “150” to the Wallabies in 2015. “That’s 260 all together,” he said. But he’s deadly serious about making it all work.

“Yeah, I’m working a lot but it’s not so much the quantity but how you manage the divide. Just having some strict guidelines on how you divide your time. I’m doing nothing around the Wallabies – nothing – I won’t even take a phone call in the office about the Wallabies while I’m with the Waratahs. It’s only six months. It’s going to be tough, yeah, but I put my hand up for it so I’m ready for it.”

Alan Jones, Australia’s 1987 World Cup coach turned broadcaster who once was an adviser to the Prime Minister, is famous for working 20 hours a day, barely sleeping at night. But Cheika doesn’t believe he needs to be anywhere near as radical.

“If I go home, I’ll go home and see the kids first – if I can get them before they go to bed,” he said. “Then I might do some planning stuff – emails, phone calls maybe – but I try not to if I can avoid it. I’d rather get up early and do that stuff. I’m [awake] about 5.30/6. I usually have to be. There’s no choice in our house. Then do your best. There’s obviously the odd thing that will slip through the net, but I don’t think there’s anyone who is having a life where something’s not slipping through the net, and you pick it up later on, you know.”

Further challenges?

Cheika faces the possible task of finding a spot in his 31-man World Cup James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper, with code-hopping Karmichael Hunt adding to the backline riches; the Wallabies already have Beale, Cooper, Matt Toomua, Christian Leali’ifano and Bernard Foley as leading midfield options, plus Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Henry Speight, Joe Tomane and Tevita Kuridrani as front-running outside backs, but Cheika says “they’ll squeeze themselves in”.

“It’s all about form and who’s got the right profile for the right thing as the season goes on. It should ensure that the Super Rugby teams are going to get plenty of good performances.”

Cheika won’t ask rival Super Rugby coaches to help him assess options by playing anyone in a particular position in which he might be considering them for the Wallabies.

O’Connor, on the wing, was among Australia’s three best performers at the 2011 World Cup before he transferred to the midfield playmaker role on the 2011 end-of-year and played five-eighth for Deans against the British & Irish Lions.

“I think he’ll probably play in the outside backs – wing, fullback,” Cheika said. “Initially anyway and then we’ll work it out from there. I need to have a look. At the moment, that’s what’s in my head but I need to see where he plays in Super Rugby, what [Reds coach] Richard [Graham] does with him because he’s got some talent in the back three as well.”

Cheika, unlike Deans, is unconcerned about the prospect of not gaining support and alignment from the Australian franchises for the good of the national cause.

“I don’t expect it, but from what I’ve heard from the lads so far it’s positive,” Cheika said. “All the guys have spoken really openly and candidly so I’m really happy with what’s happened so far. I don’t see a whole lot of areas that you can come a cropper. I think it’s all pretty straightforward.”

Billed as Australia’s coaching messiah, Cheika knows the honeymoon period won’t last. So he knows his priority is getting the Wallabies playing a Waratahs-like positive and vibrant style of rugby.

“NSW supporters are enjoying rugby again, enjoying being a part of it, and that’s what it’s about,” he said. “And then obviously we want to get results. I don’t have to say we want to get results. Of course we do.”

Cheika knows he has little time to work his magic, but he believes 12 months – almost to the day – since his appointment and the World Cup final at Twickenham on October 31 is enough for the Wallabies.

“It’s going to have to be,” he said. “No one wants to go and win the World Cup more than we would. But I think if we play our best, if we’re playing our best footy, we’ll be up there. We’ll be competitive. Then you’ve got to make sure you get things right on the day. But if we’re playing our best football, we’ll have a shout. There’s no doubt about it.”

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