‘We’re not going to win anything with schoolkids’

Australia's Henry Speight with coach Michael Cheika. Picture: Matt Browne

Michael Cheika thought twice before allowing his Wallabies wander down Killiney Hill and into Dalkey village on Tuesday evening.

McDonaghs pub was the proposed destination. A performance by the Limerick band Hermitage Green, for whom former Munster player Barry Murphy plays guitar, was the hook that caught their interest.

It is only 12 months since another Aussie social excursion, to the Brazen Head in Dublin City centre, prompted six suspensions from then coach Ewen McKenzie.

Three of them — Nick Phipps, Adam-Ashley Cooper and Israel Folau — start against Ireland tomorrow.

McKenzie’s actions clearly weren’t enough to rid the squad of a tendency to self-combust, given he resigned as coach last month in the wake of Kurtley Beale’s latest indiscretions, and that’s why Cheika was having second thoughts this week.

But only briefly.

“Don’t think we didn’t think about it,” said the former Leinster coach last night.

“I have no doubt about the players, but it only takes one person to snap a social media (picture) and put a funny little thing up there. But, at the end of the day, we’re not going to win anything with schoolkids. I trust them.”

Cheika is big on this stuff. Trust. Culture. Commitment.

It’s what he instilled at Leinster, tried but failed to chisel into the foundations at Stade Francais, and it is what he injected into a previously suspect Waratahs backbone that transformed them into Super Rugby champions before the Wallabies came calling.

Australia have their issues on the playing field, but the bones of a world-class team are there. More complicated is the task of changing the collective head space in and around a dressing room prone to trouble.

Beale returns to the bench tomorrow for the first time since his text messaging prompted the resignation of McKenzie and team business manager Di Patson and Cheika is clearly confident he can toe the line, as he did under him at the Waratahs. So, too, everyone else.

“If every player respects things, then the odd mistake is always going to be forgiven,” he explained. “It’s about having a high performing team that has excellent team spirit and camaraderie because that is imperative to win big games. You don’t do that being locked in your hotel because you’re worried about something.”

The job of Wallabies coach may be one loaded with pitfalls, but the prize for the man who can eradicate that capacity to self-destruct is enormous and Cheika is going about it by seeking to ally a greater physicality to their fizzing back line. Tomorrow affords him another chance to see how that philosophy is unfolding.

“We’re going out there to play. Ten-man rugby is not in our playbook, but we’re going to need physicality because half of Ireland’s tries have come from the driving maul. They’ve a strong scrum and they’re very physical in one-out carrying. Carry hard and ruck hard.

“They’re good at keeping the ball, as we are getting more in tune. There’ll be interesting phases of play. We like to go wide, but they have a lot of trucks inside. (Rob) Kearney is always lurking on the inside because (Jonathan) Sexton is the general and likes running that. Slightly contrasting styles, but an interesting battle.”

It is also a chance to reacquaint himself with old friends, as he did on Wednesday when he visited Leinster’s new base in UCD. Cheika’s return to Dublin has sparked a renewal of interest in his relationship with Sexton, who he once tried to lure to Stade.

The Ireland out-half spoke yesterday about how he banged heads with the Australian at Leinster over his lack of game time before the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster when injury to Felipe Contepomi finally opened the door.

The Wallaby coach didn’t remember their relationship being quite so tempestuous.

“Yeah, of course, because he is looking at it from the point of view of a player who wanted games. I loved him. He was brilliant. He is everything in a player. He has aggro, he doesn’t like losing, he loves winning.

“He is competitive, he has skills, he practises hard. He is cool under pressure. Like, what else do you want in a player? Just because I didn’t pick him sometimes didn’t mean I butted heads with him.”

They can do that tomorrow.


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