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Cheika ready to lead the Waratahs to glory

Date

Spiro Zavos

The needler … Waratahs coach Michael Cheika.

The needler … Waratahs coach Michael Cheika. Photo: Brendan Esposito

ACCORDING to blink theory, first impressions are often the truest impressions. The first time I met Michael Cheika, the new coach of the Waratahs, was at Manuka Oval decades ago. Randwick, with Cheika as one of their aggressive loose forwards, had come to Canberra to play the local side.

As the Randwick side walked into their changing room, Cheika spotted me among the small crowd watching the great men arrive. ''Spiro Zavos,'' he called out, ''the rugby writer who never goes to matches.'' ''What I am doing here, then?'' I replied.

What I took from this brief encounter was that Cheika was an abrasive personality (as well as a player) and what rugby players call ''a needler'', someone who likes to provoke a reaction in people he is dealing with. What he was really saying was that if I had gone to matches I'd have to be promoting him as a Waratahs player in my columns. I immediately warmed to someone who had such self-confidence and a certain bravery in expressing it.

I subsequently followed Cheika's successful career as a coach in Europe with great interest. He coached Leinster to Celtic League and Heineken Cup triumphs. His teams played aggressive rugby in front of large and enthusiastic crowds of supporters. I have high hopes that this sort of take-no-prisoners approach by Cheika to his rugby, to promoting himself, his team and to his coaching will work well for the Waratahs this year.

Like Rod Macqueen, Cheika is a successful businessman. He can walk away from coaching without a financial worry. This will enable him to cut through all the politicking that has bedevilled the Waratahs since 1996. This politicking, involving power disputes between the leading Sydney clubs, board struggles and incessant power plays by senior players, has made the Waratahs a dysfunctional team for too long. A clean-out of administrators has created a new environment at the Waratahs.

The new chairman of the board, Roger Davis, has looked to Cheika to fulfil the potential of the team and win a first Super Rugby trophy. So far in 2013, so good. I watched the Waratahs defeat the Rebels in a friendly at Hobart a couple of weeks ago. Israel Folau revealed himself as the X-factor player teams need to win Super Rugby tournaments. The Waratahs forwards, too, tore into the rucks and mauls and, initially, gave away penalties. It was explained to me the reason for this was they were trying to work out how far the referee, Angus Gardner, would let them go. The Waratahs, too, played in a style that had many similarities to the old ''Galloping Greens'' Randwick game. One dazzling back movement was started from behind their own posts.

Against the Crusaders, in a second friendly at Allianz Stadium, there were fewer ruck penalties. Folau made a sizzling break from the kick-off.

The Waratahs, too, gave away shots at goal to score tries, which they did, scoring two to the one conceded. Cheika explained afterwards that he wanted his team to learn how to score tries.

For the first time in years, the Waratahs are really fit. The runs up the Coogee Steps have produced a side that looks, in body shape, more like a New Zealand side. Cheika, too, has imposed his way on the team by naming a new captain, Dave Dennis. He has dropped a former captain, Benn Robinson.

Tom Kingston, a player with a high work rate, has been preferred as a wing to Lachie Turner, whose early promise has been diminished through injuries.

There are 14 Wallabies in the Waratahs squad, nine of them in the forwards. The Waratahs have the players to be contenders. The Chiefs finished 11th in 2011 and won the Super Rugby tournament, with a new coach, last year. The Waratahs finished 11th last season. First impressions of Cheika suggest that sooner rather than later the Waratahs are going to be contenders.

4 comments so far

  • Tahs have always been contenders at this stage of the season and, often, after even two or three games. How many great coaches have been about to rescue the Tahs? Their headstones decorate the Waratah graveyard.
    Nothing wrong with the coaches or the players - it's the culture of the place. Old school ties, blazers and the most arrogant fans in the country won't win titles. The Brumbies and the Reds have had their bad, even shocking, years but the fans never boo the players and the teams comes back to eventually win. The Booing of the Tahs is as predictable as the Running of the Bulls - just wait a few rounds. Sadly, these coaches and players deserve better but they're not going to find it at Moore Park.
    "It's the Vibe!" of the place.

    Commenter
    Tederick
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    February 23, 2013, 4:47PM
    • I have been a Tah supporter for decades, living in hope we MIGHT get some where one day.
      Good to see another season gone after round one. Can we get our money back for Folau (USELESS) As for Cheika, point is to win the game mate. It's great to see running rugby however when have the bigger pack you use them.

      Commenter
      old prop
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 24, 2013, 10:07AM
      • @old prop

        Agree with your first line of comment but the rest of your comment is, to say the least, unfair and well, somewhat pathetic.
        The Tahs were shown-up against the Reds for having 'ring rust', nothing more and nothing less. To right-off the rest of the season based on this performance is nonsence !
        The Reds were better for the hit-out against the Brumbies and brought a true physicality to the break-down which the Tahs struggled with. The Reds also took their chances unlike the Tahs.
        Disappointing result for the Tahs and their supporters....YES !
        End of the world....no friggin' way buddy !!
        I do feel, at this juncture, to question your status as a true Tahs supporter. Who or what is the more disappointing here ? Sadly, I know the answer.
        Suggest it's time to show some real support by not throwing-out your toys from your private little playground.

        Commenter
        Machooka
        Location
        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        February 24, 2013, 11:43AM
    • Agreed, something about the Tahs 'esprit de corps' just never seems right. But this year, they certainly look to be playing with more purpose and spirit than last year after their loss to the mighty Reds last night. Its not a lack of talent or skill, more an inability to blend as a unit and play as a team. I thought Folau was truly terrible last night and it must give young, developing Tahs players the squirts that this over rated 'athlete' (he never calls himself a footballer anymore) can just roll up and waltz in the first XV. Cheika seems to be his own man, not one to be dictated to by the Tahs 'old school' brigade. Did he really want Folau there or was he mandated to select him?And there must be a better 12 in the Tahs set up than Tom Carter. He just isn't what they need at 12 now they are trying to play a ball running wide game. Good win by the Reds last night but they had opportunities for another 3 or 4 tries. Go the REDS!!

      Commenter
      John from the Hill
      Location
      QLD
      Date and time
      February 24, 2013, 10:39AM

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