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Cheika calls on knock-out experience to prep Wallabies for Pumas

The ex-Leinster coach says he never imagined coaching in the World Cup semi-finals.

Murray Kinsella reports from London

A MAGNERS LEAGUE trophy, the Heineken Cup, the Shute Shield, a Super Rugby crown and the Rugby Championship. Michael Cheika has had his lows, but trophy success has never been far away in the Australian’s coaching career.

Britain Rugby WCup Australia Scotland Source: AP/Press Association Images

He is accustomed to the demands of knock-out rugby, and a week after his Wallabies side scraped past Scotland, Cheika sends them into a World Cup semi-final against Argentina having called on all of his past experiences to ensure his team is ready.

“I can go back to different experiences I’ve had in competitions to make sure that I’m preparing mentally correctly, my own preparation,” said Cheika yesterday at Australia’s team hotel in Teddington.

“Every situation is very unique and it’s about making sure that I’ve prepared the best I possibly can.

“I didn’t imagine ever being in this situation, so I’m here and I want to make sure I’ve prepared for the team and make sure I’m doing my job the best I possibly can, so everyone’s ready.”

Last weekend in Twickenham was a huge scare for an Australia team that scored five tries but failed to put away a resilient Scotland side. After the impressive pool wins over Fiji, England and Australia, this was a dip.

It served as a reminder to Cheika, his coaching staff and his players that they will need to move to another level against the Pumas today.

“Nothing’s a given in this game, you’ve to to earn everything,” said Cheika. “We’ve got to improve on our performance on the field. That requires myself and my team of coaches and staff to improve off the field as well, in the way we prepare and what we bring every day to training.

“I want to do that for myself so I can give them the best possible opportunity.

“I really do believe a lot in this side. I really believe in the players in this team because I’ve seen them work very, very hard every single day. That consistency brings belief. That in itself won’t mean anything except for the fact that it gives us the launching pad to go out there and play the best footy we can.”

Britain Rugby WCup The Pumas have been fascinating to follow in this World Cup. Source: Alastair Grant

What made life more difficult for the Wallabies against Scotland was the fact that David Pocock and Israel Folau were missing through injury. Though it looked very shaky at one point this week, both players have been named to start today.

It’s doubtful whether either man is close to 100% fit, but then such is the way of the latter stages of any tournament.

Yesterday, Cheika said Folau is “running relatively pain-free now” after his ankle injury, though he has appeared to be carrying the issue through the World Cup, his famous ability to leap for the high ball looking somewhat dimmed.

Meanwhile, Cheika said it is “no risk” to start Pocock after his struggles with a calf injury, the Wallabies coach pointing out that his number eight would probably have insisted on playing no matter what.

“He’s very strong mentally, that lad, so it would have been very difficult to stop him even if he wasn’t fit,” said Cheika. “But we feel more than comfortable with the fact that he’s fit enough to do his job and do it very well.”

Whatever about the Wallabies having two of their world-class players back in the XV, Cheika has to worry about the quality of player in the Pumas squad.

Daniel Hourcade’s outfit possess several of the outstanding players in this tournament in the likes of Santiago Cordero, Tomás Lavanini, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and Agustín Creevy.

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What has made the Pumas so effective, however, is the force of the collective. Even players who are not perhaps stars of the game – Leonardo Senatore or Joaquín Tuculet, for example – have looked like world beaters in this set-up.

AustraliaÕs David Pocock Pocock returns for the Wallabies. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Hourcade’s ambitious, positive Pumas have taken some by surprise at this tournament, many Irish in that group, but Cheika has seen it coming.

“I have a slightly different view in the fact that I’ve known Argentinian players very closely from many years ago,” said Cheika. “They made the semi-finals in 2007, albeit playing a slightly different style of rugby, but with a very strong team of players.

“They’re very strong, very passionate about what they’re doing. I think they’ve just transformed the way they play a little bit, but they’ve always had a very steely approach to the game, their competitive spirit has always been very, very high.

“Tournament play has always suited them, because it gives them a chance to get all their players together.

“I feel that their seeds were planted back in that era of Agustín Pichot and Felipe Contepomi, Mario Ledesma, Rodrigo Roncero. These players that are playing now have learned from those guys and built it on. This tournament has helped them, but their seeds were sown back then.”

Cheika will hope that his experience of preparation in high-pressure situations has Australia in the perfect place to prevent Hourcade’s men from harvesting what looks like an ample crop.

Verdict: Australia.

Argentina:

15. Joaquín Tuculet
14. Santiago Cordero
13. Marcelo Bosch
12. Juan Martín Hernández
11. Juan Imhoff
10. Nicolas Sánchez
9. Martín Landajo

1. Marcos Ayerza
2. Agustín Creevy (captain)
3. Ramiro Herrera
4. Guido Petti
5. Tomás Lavanini
6. Pablo Matera
7. Juan Martín Hernández Lobbe
8. Leonardo Senatore

Replacements:

16. Julian Montoya
17. Lucas Noguera
18. Juan Figallo
19. Matias Alemanno
20. Facundo Isa
21. Tomas Cubelli
22. Jeronimo De La Fuente
23. Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino

Australia:

15. Israel Folau
14. Adam Ashley-Cooper
13. Tevita Kuridrani
12. Matt Giteau
11. Drew Mitchell
10. Bernard Foley
9. Will Genia

1. James Slipper
2. Stephen Moore (captain)
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Kane Douglas
5. Rob Simmons
6. Scott Fardy
7. Michael Hooper
8. David Pocock

Replacements:

16. Tatafu Polota-Nau
17. Toby Smith
18. Greg Holmes
19. Dean Mumm
20. Ben McCalman
21. Nick Phipps
22. Matt Toomua
23. Kurtley Beale

Referee: Wayne Barnes.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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