Having seen a record win over the All Blacks followed by a 36-0 hammering by the same side, you may not be surprised to hear Michael Cheika refuse to read too much into Ireland’s Six Nations rollercoaster.
The Australia head coach keeps a close eye on his former home, having spent five years in Dublin as Leinster boss, and took in Ireland’s shock loss to England last February while on a pre-Rugby World Cup homework mission.
Wales are in the Wallabies’ group, with England or France likely quarter-final opponents, so Cheika’s northern visit was a worthwhile one.
But making sense of those results — Wales’ top billing, England’s adventures, Ireland’s disappointing efforts at retaining their title, and God knows what he thinks of France — pales into trying to compare the recent Bledisloe Cup results, which saw Australia’s giddy 47-26 win overturned immediately with savage Kiwi ruthlessness.
“To be honest. I don’t think it really matters, mate,” Cheika said, with a trademark grin. “Humans are funny, we want to find a formula for everything, it’s just the way we are.
“The meaning of life, the formula for this, how did that happen — and we’re pretty good at finding formulas most of the time, if you see the way technology’s gone — but footy’s got so many variables in it you just don’t know.
"You don’t know what’s going on in a key player’s private life, or you don’t know what’s going on physically with each team, the weather, how teams will deal with indoor stadia because there’s plenty of them (in Japan).
“That’s why it’s so exciting, it’s great, we’re looking forward to it, but you don’t want to get too excited too early.”
Wales was the primary focus of Cheika’s European visit, and he saw the eventual Grand Slam winners beat France and Italy in the flesh, before catching the Welsh’s impressive win over Ireland in the finale in Cardiff on TV.
Having the Slam winners in Pool D makes things “interesting — it doesn’t get any easier”, Cheika said, but he struggled to make sense of the Six Natios as a whole, and its likely impact on the World Cup.
There were some pretty impressive performances from different teams across the whole tournament, and a lot of intensity. But the last few years over here have seen a different style of footy start to appear in the North, and it’s very, very difficult to combat.
What about Ireland’s third place finish — are they on the way down?
“Absolutely not,” Cheika countered. “Everyone’s got their opinion, haven’t they? I don’t think so myself. I believe that every game has its own life. When you turn up it’s zero-zero, and that’s why the team that’s running last can be the team that’s running first on any given day.
“So, I think looking at those things as a guide to what can happen later on is a trap, but looking at the games for what’s happening inside of them and what you might confront when you’re coming up against those teams, that’s really important for us.”
Has Joe Schmidt’s side been ‘figured out’? Is what happened to them against England, and Wales’ form, a worrying trend?
“I think that if you dominate any team they don’t have much,” he said. “But I certainly wouldn’t be saying that at all. Joe’s been pretty unbelievable as a coach in Ireland if you think about it, and there’s going to be the odd person here or there who might say something like that but I certainly don’t believe that.
“I think he’s got an excellent strategy. We battled against them in three tests in Australia, so we saw it close up and yeah I think they’ll be right up there when the whips are cracking in September/October/November, for sure.”
Australia, despite the recent embarrassment at Eden Park, are likely to be there too — just as they were in 2015, when they lost in the final to New Zealand. They have won just 19 of their 46 Tests since, including the recent hammering of the All Blacks in Perth, but Cheika remains an eternal optimist.
“As disappointed as I am about this [AB’s] game, I’ve got to put it into context, keep trying to build on those things and be resilient, don’t let this get me down.
“I’m always a believer, no doubt about it. I think we’ve got a really similar situation to 2015. But what’s a little bit different is that we blooded a lot more players after 2015. We’ve got a lot of young players who we blooded with this specific aim of getting experience, guys who we started then now have 40 or 50 caps, and the struggles of last year and what we got through, will only make us better.
“If you’re taking shortcuts or not doing the best thing, you’d have doubts, but if you’re not, if you’re doing your best, sometimes you have to live with the fact it doesn’t go your way and you have to improve from that and get better. This is print so you won’t see my smile...but I’m always a believer, we’ll surprise a person or two by the time we get there.”