Michael Cheika a truly transformative leader

Previous World Cups, in soccer and in rugby, have demonstrated the dangers of bigging up teams during the pool stages, but Michael Cheika and the Wallabies have certainly earned the praise.

Michael Cheika a truly transformative leader

Cheika is the very definition of what those few academics who have delved into leadership in sport like to call the ‘transformative leader’.

He has done it at Leinster, attempted it at Stade Francais, and succeeded brilliantly once again at the New South Wales Watatahs. Now it is the Wallabies’ turn.

Transformative leaders tend to thrive when they take control at certain periods. Traumatic events and their aftermath are fertile ground for them as they tend to find teams or organisations receptive of the need to rip things up and start again.

Key to it all are people, as always. People like Cheika succeed through force of personality, but they need their underlings to not just buy into the process, but to play an active part in bringing about the change required and the Wallabies have been all ears.

“He’s got everyone on the same page, playing for the right reasons,” said Drew Mitchell who steps into the first XV against Wales with Rob Horne. “He has tapped into what it means to play for the Wallabies, who it is we are representing.”

Cheika has been lauded for the effect he has had on the players, but less focus has been given to the men he brought with him onto the Wallabies coaching staff and who have played a crucial role in the squad’s upturned fortunes.

Nathan Grey, defence coach with Cheika at the Waratahs and a member of the Wallaby squad that won the 1999 World Cup, was brought in to the national team on the same brief. Stephen Larkham was seconded as backs/attack coach from the Brumbies. Both were allowed continue their club roles in the Super Rugby season, something which bought Cheika goodwill from the provincial sides.

Scott Fardy, the blindside flanker, was among those to talk of their input ahead of tomorrow’s Pool A meeting with Wales.

“There’s also the high-performance side of it, that has improved,” pointed out Fardy who already knew Larkham from his day job with the Brumbies. “And then having a couple of coaches who are the real brains of the operation, as Cheika is as well.

“But there is probably a real pattern of discussion behind the scenes that we don’t see and that has benefited the entire squad. Having guys who have been there before and won a World Cup has really benefited the squad.”

Fly-half Bernard Foley has touched on the backroom’s roles as well this week, highlighting again Cheika’s savvy in bringing in coaches who have the top-level experience as a player he himself lacks.

“Stephen was such a world-class fly-half and he brings that experience and wealth of knowledge,” Foley explained. “The way he approaches games, he is so efficient.”

Yet, Cheika’s lightbulb moment was surely when he brought the former Puma hooker to the Waratahs and then the Wallabies. With 84 caps, four World Cups and 13 years of experience playing and coaching in France, Mario Ledesma had been a godsend.

Gone is the flatpack Aussie scrum that folds under pressure and in its place is a unit that destroyed England in the scrum at Twickenham.

“It’s been phenomenal the way those guys have approached it all through the Super Rugby campaigns with Mario,” said Foley. “I was close to him at the Waratahs, but all the provinces had the scrum focus. Then to bring that into Wallaby camp has been a lift. The hard work is really showing.”

Wales (v Australia):

G Anscombe; A Cuthbert, G North, J Roberts, Liam Williams; D Biggar, G Davies; P James, S Baldwin, S Lee, L Charteris, A-W Jones, S Warburton, J Tipuric, T Faletau.

Replacements:

K Owens, A Jarvis, T Francis, J Ball, R Moriarty, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland, J Hook.

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