G'day fellas … Waratahs coach Michael Cheika greets the players at the press conference announcing his signing. Photo: Getty Images
There are big expectations on Michael Cheika but the first thing the new coach has to do at the Waratahs is win over the players.
Bravo to the NSW Rugby Union. Firstly, for the appointment of Cheika and, secondly, for taking the time to make the important decision and not operate under duress from all sorts of outside influences. Much has been written about Cheika's success coaching overseas and what he will bring to the Waratahs. It seems like he has an uncanny ability to win over the players from his efforts elsewhere.
From all reports, the players had an influence on the appointment of the new coach. The ultimate decision came form the board, but perhaps all the players knew that the man who is supposed to lead them to glory was limited by a short coaching career. His CV looks good - Padova, Randwick then European glory at Leinster with a star-studded group that had previously failed to reach the ultimate goal of winning the Heineken Cup, before a inauspicious stint at Stade Francais.
My advice to the players is they should try and find out as much information about the man who is going to soon take charge. Perhaps the players should dive into the archives of NSWRU to make a more informed decision on what approach they should have when they take to the training pitch.
I played against Cheika in club rugby. In an illustrious team at Randwick, he held his own and often gave more than the others. He was an uncompromising No.8 who would not take a backward step. He held the captain's armband and was part of seven club premierships.
The players will probably feel like they're stepping into a time warp when they encounter Cheika for the first time at the start of pre-season training. He has already spoken about being more dogged and being more old school on the field but it starts on the training paddock where everyone comes as an equal.
The biggest challenge for the incoming coach will be his ability to manage the players. To be more specific, manage the egos. I am not saying there are prima donnas running around at the Waratahs but what he needs to do is integrate the senior and junior members of this outfit. The way to get a club flowing seamlessly is to make sure there is a respect for the hierarchy of the players but making sure the weight is being pulled equally by all members of the team.
Alan Gaffney has already introduced a club captain, Pat McCutcheon, to uphold the values of what is needed to keep people grounded. This could be called an integrity officer, one who ensures the standards are being upheld by all. This can't be a token position. Even though its introduced by the management, it has to be run by the players.
When Cheika took over the role at Leinster in Ireland, it was described it as a calculated punt. It took some time to win a trophy but silverware was adorned in the trophy cabinet. The team was full of stars such as the notable Brian O'Driscoll, but however much the individuals pushed, the collective seemed to always fall short. Sounds familiar doesn't it? What we did see from that famous team was their ability to believe in themselves and play attacking rugby when it was needed and then understand how to play tight.
It all sounds very simple but stealing some ideas that work in Britain may just give another dimension to this NSW team that has been playing with the fear of failure. Gaffney has worked with Cheika and it looks like that will continue. I have spoken about the importance of his contribution to this team however little we saw of it this season.
Surely Cheika must believe in how far this team can go with the talent on offer. It would be great to be a part of the first week of training. There will be renewed enthusiasm and a clean slate to mould a team that could deliver a style of play that would allow the players enjoy their rugby again and gets Tahs fans back through the turnstiles.