RONAN O'GARA: Cheika the man for the big occasion

Ronan O’Gara analyses all the big issues at the Rugby World Cup.

The Wallabies have a serious boss for the big performance

Australia’s win over England at Twickenham last Saturday night shows me they have one serious man in Michael Cheika for organising a team for big performance. I thought they were unbelievably clinical and the second try that Bernard Foley scored, if you pulled that off in training against your B team you would be unbelievably happy. For it to come off against an England team defending for their lives it was a fantastic bit of analysis and the work between Kurtley Beale and Foley was incredible.

And to think Beale had just come off the bench. To have someone with that ability on your bench and the likes of Drew Mitchell and Quade Cooper who can’t even get in the matchday squad shows you the depth in backline talent available to Cheika. Just look at who could play 10 for them Foley, Cooper, Beale and Matt Giteau and each of them would stroll on to any international team.

Cheika the man for the big occasion

Cheika must be scratching his head. He’s capable of winning a Heineken Cup with Leinster, the Super 15 with the Waratahs and in between he’s run out of France. I’m beginning to wonder what I am doing here!

He runs a tight, hard, honest culture but player power in France made him the easy one to get taken down at Stade. But this shows, if you’re prepared to play by his rules you’ll get a massive return.

Did Australia put in a performance of world champions in waiting? It’s not a new thing to say but a week is a long time in rugby. What it says to me is that they peaked for that game because they wanted England out of the competition. They will have looked at them as a team they wouldn’t want to meet later in the competition with some momentum behind them and that crowd behind them.

It’s amazing, the mindset within the squad will be completely different to the mindset of their public. I don’t think for one second the Wallabies will be fazed by expectations outside of the group.

The English were cooked by that earlier loss to Wales

England never recovered form the hammer blow they took against Wales. They were a team of good players but they lost confidence very quickly and that isn’t a trait of great players.

I never thought I’d see myself like this but I actually feel sorry for Stuart Lancaster. I genuinely think he’s done an awful lot of things right for that team, created a likeable English team that in reality just under-performed in one key game.

They were a better team than Wales but they just didn’t finish them. It wasn’t the performance against Australia because I think Australia would have beaten anyone in the world the way they played on Saturday night. So it was that last 20 minutes against Wales.

Cheika the man for the big occasion

All the flak Lancaster’s been getting, I remember as a player getting smashed by his team at Twickenham and him getting a standing ovation for it. They wanted him then and you’d hear them saying ’this guy is unbelievable, where has he come from, how has he managed this, a few months ago we weren’t like this’.

As I wrote last week, people are fickle. He deserves a lot of credit but it’s a ruthless business. It’s the easy thing to point out what went wrong but not too easy to find solutions.

The other thing is we all fell into the trap of believing England were better than they were. There are a lot good players there but are they great players? The difference between the teams shocked people including myself. I thought England would win and how wrong did I get it? It just shows the Wales game mentally shattered them and they couldn’t recover from that.

I don’t blame Lancaster for ignoring Armitage

That Giteau scored Australia’s final try against England was ironic given Cheika had changed the rules for overseas Wallabies with 60 caps or more to return to the fold while with overseas club. England had their own issues in that regard and may have paid the price for Lancaster sticking to his guns and refusing to pick foreign-based players.

Cheika the man for the big occasion

The lack of a genuine openside flanker in his squad left England woefully short against Australia’s dynamic duo of Hooper and Pocock but I’d back Lancaster on this one.

The England coach made the rules 24 months ago and Steffon Armitage knew those rules. If playing for England meant that much to him he would have gone back to an English club for the sake of 12 months and still earn money for the other 36 months of the World Cup cycle.

So Lancaster was right. It creates a tight bond among the group that everyone is treated equally so even with the benefit of hindsight he did the right thing. Armitage could have gone to rich club like Wasps or Bath or Saracens but was he really interested in playing for England?

And nine months previously he was thinking of playing for France, so what’s his country?

We haven’t seen the real All Blacks yet, but we will.

Like Ireland against Italy, the All Blacks had no fear factor facing Georgia the other night. I don’t think anyone in their squad believed for one minute they would lose to Georgia and as a result it showed in their performance that it wasn’t a life or death game.

It had to have had an effect on their mentality. They’re not robots and they knew they were playing Georgia. It’s nothing to do with being tired or jaded, they just needed probably five per cent more concentration, that would have made a huge difference.

There were a lot of errors in amongst moments of individual brilliance and there’s a lot to be put right but I wouldn’t want to be playing them next.

Don’t read too much into Ireland’s performance against Italy

I think people are over-reading Sunday’s performance from Ireland. Italy were tough opponents who actually played really well, capable of holding the ball through a dozen phases and more, which they haven’t really done in the past. They were so poor against France and Canada that playing Ireland was their cup final and with Parisse back to inspire them they produced a really good 80 minutes.

Cheika the man for the big occasion

Ireland were inaccurate but I was at the game and I didn’t feel at any stage that Italy were going to win it or even draw the game.

After Canada and Romania, Italy was perhaps a bigger step up than they anticipated and it will be a bigger step up again this week against France. But I think they’ll be ready for it this weekend. They’ve been warned now and they won’t be caught napping twice in that green jersey.


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