Michael Cheika says there are few clubs in the world with the potential of the NSW Waratahs.

Michael Cheika says there are few clubs in the world with the potential of the NSW Waratahs. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Mention Michael Cheika to anyone with knowledge of the new Waratahs head coach and you'll get a wry smile followed by a steady intake of breath.

His no-nonsense attitude is famous in the Sydney rugby community even though he has spent the past seven years coaching overseas.

Duncan McRae, a former Waratah who calls Cheika a very good friend, put it this way: ''I think he's a real smart cookie … I think he'd tell people how it is, probably what every coach needs to be like.''

It was no surprise, then, to hear the former Randwick No.8 talk about grooming a team with as much ''dog'' in its DNA as ''flair'', within a couple of hours of meeting his team of 29 players for the first time.

''My roots are in attacking rugby both from my experience in Australia and my experience at Leinster and also what we tried to do in [French club Stade Francais] as well,'' he said at Waratahs headquarters yesterday.

''We want to play a style of rugby that's not just attacking … but also makes us proud of the way we play. It's the balance between cutting edge and a bit of old school gut feeling, good culture, a good atmosphere around hard work, a bit of dog as well, just a good balance of everything.''

Cheika ruled out asking back his good friend Rocky Elsom, whom he lured to Leinster for the start of a highly successful coach-player partnership, saying Elsom needed to concentrate on regaining his fitness.

And he nominated next year's match against the British and Irish Lions as a highlight of the 2013 season.

''It's obviously a big game, a highlight match … hopefully I can bring something to the table there because I know a lot of those players in depth.''

Georgina Robinson: Why did you take the job?

Michael Cheika: I think I really looked closely at the potential. I'm not doing coaching as a job, I'm doing it as something that I really love to do and I'm lucky enough to be able to do it. I liked the potential of creating something here at the Waratahs, in NSW, that I think will last longer than just the few years we've got now. There's so much potential in the playing stock, not just in the squad now but also around Sydney rugby and country rugby.

GR: What's the first thing you will do to start turning around what was a really bad season for the Waratahs?

MC: I think I've got to balance between making a few immediate decisions around structure, a timetable of when we're going to do certain things in terms of preparation for the coming season and be really clear with the expectation of what I'm expecting as far as the whole lifestyle. Not just how I expect you to train but the whole way of life that leads to being well-prepared, not getting injured, that sort of way of life. And then seeing how guys buy into that, and listening a little bit as well, because there's obviously a lot to hear. But the key issue for people to know in the organisation will be about what the expectations are about how we're going to be judged. We spoke about it in the meeting so it's very coherent to guys and they understand what they have to do to be successful for everyone, whether it's staff or player.

GR: Who will your assistants be?

MC: I'm going to talk to the lads now over these next few days. So at the moment we've got Alan [Gaffney] and Scott [Bowen] and Greg [Mumm] so I've got to talk to them, see what they're about, see what they want to do, how they saw it went last year and then make some calls based off that about how we're going to set ourselves up. Because it's really important that the playing group understand the role of each and every person who is going to be coaching or giving gear - there's no grey areas - I know that he's doing this. He can have an opinion on other things but this is what I'm going to get from that guy, he's going to give me skills coaching or defensive coaching or back line coaching. Let's get that really clearly defined and see how those guys feel about it. Because I feel a little bit for them because they've been living in the unknown a little bit.

GR: They've had two backs coaches [Gaffney and Bowen] …

MC: Yeah, and that's not possible to run two backs coaches, so it's about defining the roles so that when I'm talking about back line play, that guy's doing it, he's my go-to.

GR: Have you had thoughts about naming a captain?

MC: No, not yet, obviously they started with Rocky [Elsom] as captain and finished with Benn [Robinson] … I think I need to know the players' characters a bit more before I start thinking about who's going to be the captain. But obviously I'll be in close contact with the current people who are in those positions to understand how they feel about it first before going anywhere.

GR: What about winning a title, can you win one with the Waratahs?

MC: That remains to be seen, I can't predict the future, but what I can tell you is that I want to identify the things that we need to do to win the competition and I think that we need to be hard, we need to be able to score tries and get points - because in the big games you need those, you can't beat the big teams without scoring tries to get yourself ahead … and we need to be really clear with our identity, about what we're about.

GR: You also mentioned [the importance of the side having] ''a bit of dog'' about it. Has that been lacking?

MC: I couldn't tell you that because I'm not in the team. But when we talk about dog, for me it's a sort of ruthlessness that I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to get this job done. And that's not in everyone's psyche - if everyone was like that it'd be chaos - but you need a few personnel in your team who are prepared to infect the others with that and that makes you turn around and say, 'I like the fact that he's on my team' and I think that's important. It balances out the flair. It's almost like you've got the flair but you've also got a knife between your teeth. You've got to have the balance.

GR: Rugby is struggling in Sydney and NSW to win its share of ticket sales, eyeballs and hearts and minds. Is it part of your brief to change that?

MC: Definitely. I don't know where it's at in detail, but what I know is that as an essential part of winning and being a successful team, you need to have a crowd that scares the opposition, that lifts your team up, it's a massive part of this game. When there's that type of connection between the crowd and the team, that's when it becomes really enjoyable because you love stepping out on your home turf.

GR: There are some weary fans here though …

MC: Yeah, well it's up to us to energise them and give them something to be proud of. I can't tell anyone to do anything, all I can do is show by example, work hard, be honest and when it doesn't go right, no excuses, because that's my nature too.

Email: ge.robinson@smh.com.au

Twitter: @geerob