HUGE CHALLENGE: Michael Cheika calling the shots at Wallabies training. Picture: Getty ImagesLONDON: New Wallabies coach Michael Cheika intends to keep faith with Australia’s incumbent Test players but has challenged others to force a rethink when they face the Barbarians.
A new era in Australian rugby begins at Twickenham on Saturday and Cheika admits to feeling plenty of nerves ahead of his first game in charge of the national team.
Only last week, the 47-year-old was relaxing on his couch in Sydney, basking in the afterglow of a glorious Super Rugby season with the NSW Waratahs.
Now he finds himself on the other side of the world in one of the hottest seats in sport, entrusted with leading Australian rugby out of one of its darkest periods.
Saturday’s match precedes Cheika’s real initiation, four Tests against European opposition, including 2015 World Cup group opponents Wales and England.
But the Barbarians clash offers a chance for the Wallabies to embrace the physical, efficient, attacking approach Cheika has been promoting in training this week.
The coach has a clear vision for his Wallabies’ style and culture but he has effectively ruled out a dramatic shake-up of the team, saying those who played in the one-point defeat to the All Blacks a fortnight ago – Ewen McKenzie’s final game in charge – deserved to keep their spot against Wales in Cardiff next week.
However, he has left the door open for those selected in an experimental line-up to face the Barbarians – including seasoned halves Quade Cooper and Will Genia and uncapped winger Henry Speight – to force their way in.
‘‘I told the players, the reality is the team that played against New Zealand last time out has probably earned itself another start for the Tests,’’ Cheika said.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika issues instructions during an Australia Training Session ahead of the Australia v Barbarians match, at Dulwich College on October 30, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
‘‘But a good performance, I won’t lie, will put pressure on me to back that player up in the Test next week.’’
Cheika disagreed that players he had not coached before had to ‘‘prove themselves’’ over the next month but he has a clear idea of what he wants them to take out of the tour.
The first week in camp under Cheika has been highlighted by a blend of intense, physical training sessions on the pitch and a light-hearted, fun and transparent atmosphere off it.
‘‘Aside from winning games, which is obviously what every coach wants, I want the team to come away from the tour very clear about how we’re playing the game and very clear about what’s required when you come into the camp to play for Australia,’’ he said.
‘‘And when they leave the tour, I want them to have enjoyed it so much that they’re really hungry to get back together again.’’
The Wallabies are desperate to create some positive headlines for Australian rugby, which has been on the slide and under heavy fire recently amid the Kurtley Beale text messaging saga.
It’s a huge challenge for Cheika and one he isn’t underestimating.
‘‘I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t [nervous] but that’s good, I think,’’ he said.
The side to face the Barbarians features a blend of experienced regulars and fringe players and will be captained by Western Force back-rower Matt Hodgson. AAP