Michael Cheika's problem isn't Steve Hansen, it's Eddie Jones

Michael Cheika talks with former All Blacks skills coach Mick Byrne during a Wallabies training session.
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Michael Cheika talks with former All Blacks skills coach Mick Byrne during a Wallabies training session.

England coach Eddie Jones must be having a chuckle to himself as he reads about the verbal jabs being exchanged by Steve Hansen and Wallabies counterpart Michael Cheika.

Jones is in a win-win situation after orchestrating a 3-0 series victory against the Wallabies in June.

Should the Wallabies beat the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday it will help England close the World Rugby rankings gap on the All Blacks, and Jones has not been reticent about targeting the No 1 ranking.

But should the All Blacks win, and sew up another Bledisloe campaign the following week, the Australian post-mortems will follow a predictable course.

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There will be the usual deep inquisitions about the structure of the professional game in Australia and there will be a blunter inquiry, as is the Australian way: is the best Australian coach in the world coaching the Wallabies? 

That's as far more damaging line for Cheika than anything Hansen can come up with. It would also be unfair, knee-jerk, and hypothetical. But such is the bruising world of international coaching. It is, as Warren Gatland has often said, an "all or nothing" game.       

That loss to Jones and England hurt Cheika. Poker would not be his strong suit because he has a face that wonderfully captures what he is feeling. It would have hurt that an Australian turned up to his backyard, told the world what his team was going to do to the Wallabies, and then carried it out.

The nature of the loss also allowed Hansen to throw in his 'bullied' comment in regards to the Jones v Cheika relationship.

Some of Hansen's comments about Australia are best left to drift through to the keeper, and this is one of them.

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But Cheika responded to it, and it contained just enough plausibility to resonate with some people, which is why we're still talking about it in a Bledisloe week and not whether the Wallabies have made the improvements needed to stop the All Blacks from making a mess of their lineout again. The Wallabies could clone Israel Folau and play him on at fullback, centre and both wings but it will not matter if they can't get the ball to him.      

Yet, the door is still ajar for the Wallabies on Saturday if they are good enough. The Wallabies' tactic this week of insisting the All Blacks don't rate them is a mischaracterisation so crude that you wonder if even any of the players - an erudite bunch - actually believe it.

In the interests of clarity the following is closer to the mark: the All Blacks probably think that if they do the right things before kick-off to get their game going on the night they will be hard to beat, but by arriving in Sydney early this week they have signalled they haven't yet found the key to that preparation.      

That brings its own pressure on Australia. Moreover, the longer-term schedule is pretty tough on them this year. They have two games in New Zealand and later a difficult five test tour in November/December tour that involves all four home nations plus France.

That's a long and testing campaign, especially when there's a clever, battle-hardened Australian up north who is at the top of his game, pushing his side in the direction Australians so desperately want the Wallabies to go. 

   

 - Stuff

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