Australian millionaire coach Michael Cheika is having a ball with his charges at the rugby World Cup. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Everyone has waited for Michael Cheika to blow his top, but the Wallaby coach appears to be having lots of fun
Wallaby coach Michael Cheika is arguably the most interesting personality at the rugby World Cup.
Known to his players as “Check”, Cheika is a big bundle of contradictions.
A lumbering bear of a man, he can have a filthy temper – but on the flip side, he treats his players with compassion and fatherly concern.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about him is that he does not need the job as head coach of Australia – he does it because he loves it.
The son of Lebanese immigrants is said to be a self-made millionaire – earned in the world of fashion.
After a long playing career as a robust No 8 with top Sydney club Randwick, he worked for fashion designer Collette Dinnigan as her business manager before starting his own distribution company.
His big break came when he bought the rights to distribute PDC Jeans, a brand with many famous adherents, including Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham).
He is fluent in several languages, including Arabic, French and Italian, and his enthusiasm to get things done has earned him the nickname Cyclone Cheika.
His rough-hewn looks are the last thing you’d expect next to the catwalk, but there is perhaps a link between his appreciation of things attractive and appealing and the way he likes rugby to be played.
The only coach to have won a major club competition in each hemisphere (the Heineken Cup with Leinster in 2009 and the Super Rugby title with the Waratahs last year), Cheika encourages his teams to play with panache.
He transformed the Waratahs, and his influence on the Wallabies since taking over from Ewen McKenzie has been remarkable.
He addressed Australia’s perennial weakness in the scrum by bringing in Argentina’s Mario Ledesma as set piece coach, and actively sourced props with more bulk.
When he felt the team was not fit enough, he came up with the unusual device of chasing players up and down the steep Coogee Beach steps.
Last year, he was so enraged by another scrum decision going against the Tahs in a game against the Brumbies in Canberra that he stormed out of the coach’s booth and slammed the door so forcefully the glass cracked.
In the same season, he pleaded guilty to misconduct for abusing a cameraman during a game against the Sharks in Durban, and was heavily fined.
Australian viewers were horrified to see him gesticulating with a golf club in the Waratahs’ dressing room before a match, but it turned out to be a piece of homespun philosophy.
Having liked what he had heard on a golf commentary about Tiger Woods hitting the ball so hard “he doesn’t want the club back” Cheika instilled this thought in his players’ minds and motivated them to “tee off” on their opponents.
It turned out that Cheika had bought up a batch of old drivers and presented each player with one, with a plaque containing his nickname.
During the World Cup, it was thought Cheika’s fiery temper would be lit by the snide questioning and comments of the English media.
Instead, he has remained smilingly unmoved, and had the last laugh when the Wallabies played England like a bunch of fiddles and knocked them out of the tournament.
All going swimmingly
All over England, folk are reporting unscheduled meetings with World Cup players – but few as revealing as this.
After conquering England, the Wallabies had their post-match recovery session in a public swimming pool near Victoria Station in London, and caused a ripple when they stripped off – down to their gold-coloured “budgie smugglers” – at poolside, revealing tanned torsos that would not have been out of place on Bondi Beach.
Land of the Rising Oval Ball
In a major boost for rugby in Japan, a world-record national audience tuned in to watch the Brave Blossoms defeat Samoa.
Twenty-five million people in Japan watched the 26-5 victory for Eddie Jones and his team in Milton Keynes, eclipsing the previous record of 20.7 million held by France, when national broadcaster TF1 televised the first semifinal of rugby World Cup 2007 in Paris between France and England.
The recorded audience represented nearly 20% of the Japanese population and a TV audience share in excess of 64%.
There can be no doubts now that the 2019 World Cup will indeed take place in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Ref ‘Hoggs’ the limelight
Referee Nigel Owens stole the show with his withering put-down of Scotland’s Stuart Hogg during the match against the Springboks at St James’ Park in Newcastle.
Owens ticked off Hogg for diving and also had a dig at football, the sport normally played at the stadium.
“Dive like that again and you can come back here in two weeks and play [in the Premiership],” Owens told Hogg after he tried to milk a penalty by falling down in a heap after a light brush with the Beast.
Known for his wit, Owens once summed up the lot of referees: “I always knew I was going to be a ref because even when I was in school I wasn’t really liked, so it made sense.”
Owens came out as gay in 2007, and this led to possibly his best quip. Blowing up a crooked throw by Harlequins hooker Dave Ward, he called out: “I’m straighter than that one!”
Diego good at taking pens
Talking of football and diving, Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona swept in to Leicester to support his countrymen in their match against Tonga. He waved his blue-and-white flag in the stands and led a victory jig in the dressing room, but he was off-limits to the press.
Determined to get a quote, an intrepid Rugby News Service reporter waited for him outside the dressing room armed with pen and paper. As Maradona came down the corridor, the reporter approached him and said: “Diego...”, at which point Maradona grabbed the pen and went to sign the notebook.
“No, you speak with me?” ventured the hack, but Diego was immediately ushered away by a band of hefty minders … taking the pen with him.
At least it went with (the Hand of) God.