Sydney - Michael Cheika has performed a remarkable turnaround in the short
space of time he has been in charge of Australia with a recent win over bitter
rivals the All Blacks giving them the perfect boost ahead of the Rugby World
Cup where they are seeking a third title.
Cheika took over from Ewen McKenzie at the end of last year and the
Wallabies defeated only Wales in their four-Test European tour but they turned
over South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand to claim this season's Rugby
Championship to raise hopes of better times ahead.
A try by centre Tevita Kuridrani after the full-time siren earned the
Wallabies a 24-20 win against the Springboks in Brisbane and two late tries
gave them a 34-9 victory over Argentina in Mendoza.
But in Cheika's biggest win as the new coach, the Wallabies showed plenty of
resolve to beat world champions 27-19 three tries to two in Sydney, just a
month out from the World Cup in England and Wales.
However, a resounding 41-13 thrashing by the All Blacks in the return match
served as a warning that there is still a way to go to turn them into World Cup
Fans are hoping Cheika can turn the Wallabies around in the same way he did
with the NSW Waratahs, guiding the perennial underachievers to their maiden
Super Rugby title last year, playing an attacking brand of rugby.
Cheika has appointed hooker Stephen Moore as Wallabies captain up to and
including the World Cup, ahead of flanker Michael Hooper, who led the Wallabies
during Moore's convalescence from a season-ending knee injury last year.
"The last World Cup we won was in 1999 and there is a group of players
here who have to go to a place where they haven't been before," Cheika
"They haven't had those experiences. They have to discover what it
takes to get that.
"In that way it is a little bit similar. The Waratahs had not had that
either. Hadn't achieved the end goal. They needed to go somewhere they hadn't
"Even though Australia has gone there before as a nation in rugby this
generation of players haven't had those experiences. Once they've got the
experience they can keep building on it. That's the key."
Waratahs chairman and former Test second-rower Roger Davis is confident
Cheika can emulate his success at provincial level to the Wallabies,
particularly in partnership with assistant coach and Wallaby fly-half great
"Michael's great skill is he is a passionate leader. A passionate
coach. He has really good insights into what drives and motivates people,"
"He has a very simple, direct, very confrontational, physical style of
play. The partnership with Larkham is going to be really interesting because
Larkham is a different sort of coach. He is creative. He'll be a wonderful foil
to Michael's rather blunt, direct approach."
Australia will need all those qualities in a Group of Death with England and
Wales in their pool along with Fiji with only two teams going through to the
The Wallabies maligned forward pack has been hard at work under new scrum
coach, former Argentinian hooker Mario Ledesma to beef up their set-piece
Ledesma, the Pumas 56-Test veteran, helped improve the Waratahs scrum under
the coaching of Cheika this year before he was asked to help make the Wallabies
scrum into a force.
"I think the work we've done not only in the last week or two but in
the Rugby Championship with Mario, the players have all bought into the
philosophy that we want to take into games," said prop James Slipper.
"We're going to have to keep improving because it's going to be a major
focus for us moving forward into the World Cup.
Cheika was instrumental in getting a relaxation of the eligibility of
overseas-based players Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell to be available for Wallabies'
selection to deepen the national team's talent pool.
"They're class players, that's why they're back here," Cheika said
of the Toulon-based pair.