Argentina coach Michael Cheika on All Blacks struggles

This article was originally published on Stuff and is reproduced with permission

If Pumas coach Michael Cheika gleefully soaked up gratification during the All Blacks’ recent wobbles, he’s not letting on.

That’s despite some Kiwis having a cackle or two at his expense during his six years in charge of the Wallabies, highlighted by the New Zealand Herald portraying him as a clown in 2016.

But Cheika, who was filthy at the time, maintained the All Blacks’ struggles – and the well-documented uncertainly regarding head coach Ian Foster’s job security – hadn’t provided him any joy.

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“Well, no, because if the people who are laughing are mainly the chaps that would be the media, they’re not playing. I don’t see any of the players or any of the coaches laughing or carrying on like that,” Cheika said.

“I’m not into that stirring up, trying to get niggle on people. Those that do it I suppose get their thrill, I dunno, they’re probably doing the same thing to New Zealand now as well, same guys doing the same things.”

A far cry from the heated figure Cheika sometimes cut on either side of All Blacks-Wallabies Tests, the Australian couldn’t have cut a more relaxed figure during his team naming media session.

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Hot beverage in hand, the 55-year-old sunk into a seat at Christchurch’s Crown Plaza ahead of Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks at Orangetheory Stadium and made light hearted small talk before going on the record.

To think it was the same bloke who accused the All Blacks of leaking a story to a New Zealand paper regarding the discovery of a listening device in their team hotel in Double Bay before the Bledisloe Cup opener in 2016.

There was also anger regarding what he perceived a lack of respect from the All Blacks towards the Wallabies, after he believed they didn’t receive a dressing room invite for post-match drinks at Eden Park the same year.

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But Cheika appears to have buried those grievances, and wasn’t about to dish Foster bulletin board material as the Pumas pursue their first win against the All Blacks on New Zealand soil.

“I’m a believer that you go on the field, it’s war. You get off the field, it’s life as normal. As soon as you cross the white line. I’ve always lived by that code,” he said.

Asked if he was a more relaxed head coach than during his days in charge of the Wallabies between 2014-2019, he said nothing had changed.

“I’ve always been relaxed as a head coach, I have,” he insisted.

“I know that you guys, there is a lot of what you see in two second grabs, and it’s very much like footy. I go hard on the field when I’m on the field, then when I’m off the field, I’m pretty easy. It’s the other people’s perception that might be wrong.”

That said, in his first year as Pumas head coach, Cheika said he’d evolved as a coach in other ways since his time in charge of the Wallabies, who he finished up with after they bombed out during the quarterfinals of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

He admitted he’d lost sight of some basic principles of coaching while with the Aussies, something he became aware of with after teaming up with Felipe Contepomi at the Pumas.

Cheika, no stranger to criticism during his time in charge of the Wallabies, also reiterated his lack of sympathy for Foster after what’s thus far been a tumultuous season.

“I think he’d be fine, honestly… he seems OK, he’s still there, he’s still doing the job, he still won a big game (against South Africa).

“It comes with the territory. You’ve got to ride the ups and downs, because if I can’t ride the ups and downs, how [are players] going to do it in the game? What role model am I giving to my players if the first sign of any trouble I start crying and sucking my thumb? He’s doing what he does. Good on him.”

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