Jovial Michael Cheika not playing mind games

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 20:20 29/07/2014
Michael Cheika
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HAPPY MAN: Waratahs coach Michael Cheika shares a joke with his players at training this week.

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The coach who has overseen the revival of the NSW Waratahs declined to ratchet up the pressure on Crusaders counterpart Todd Blackadder today, by doubting the seven-time Super Rugby champions are stressed from not winning the title since 2008.

Michael Cheika appeared in a typically jovial pre-match mood as the Waratahs continued their preparations for Saturday's clash between the competition's first and second-ranked teams at ANZ Stadium.

During a wide-ranging preamble, Cheika neglected to play mind games with Blackadder, another former hard-nosed forward.

Reminded that the Crusaders had not won a Super Rugby crown since the Robbie Deans era - despite making the semifinals on Blackadder's watch since 2009, and the final in 2011 - Cheika refuted suggestions that an All Black-laden line-up would be fazed by that lack of success.

"No, I don't think so, I doubt it very highly," he said, after naming the same starting line-up that defeated the Brumbies 26-8 in Saturday's semifinal.

"You get a certain air of confidence when you're continually in the finals. I think they'd be feeling comfortable with their opponent," he said, acknowledging a suspicion the Waratahs' would fail again, in this, a long-awaited third final.

"History has tended to lead to the conclusion that we won't deliver on the day.

"I suppose we've been told that for a while .... everyone thought we'd fall over at some stage.

"What we've got to do is go out there and up our game, improve from last week in certain areas and see if that's good enough."

The set piece is one area the Crusaders are sure to target given the Waratahs' fragility at the lineout - especially following a season-ending injury to caller and blindside flanker Dave Dennis; the scrum also had anxious moments against the Brumbies.

Captain Michael Hooper is also expected to be targeted at the breakdown with the Crusaders fielding dual opensides - Richie McCaw and Matt Todd.

Cheika was noncommittal regarding the impact the All Blacks captain and Todd - a player he felt was unlucky to miss the Rugby Championship squad - would have on Hooper's role.

"We sort of think how can we put pressure on them. There's not much point thinking about it too much," he said, although the topic is bound to be prominent when Cheika discusses strategy with assistants Daryl Gibson and Nathan Grey.

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He had already reviewed the Crusaders dominant semifinal win over the Sharks and was not surprised at the outcome.

"They're a really powerful unit, they really focused on the set piece.

"I just think they were very complete. They were able to run the ball when they needed to, the big men got in the game when needed to," he said, impressed with the momentum the Crusaders were building at the back end of the campaign.

"They've got a lot of international players and they've got the experience to say, 'Well we can start a little bit slower here because we don't want to burn guys out'.

"They've got the luxury of having a guy like (Dan) Carter who they can let sit at home and relax for four or five months and then come in when they need him.

"That's always handy isn't it?"

NSW Waratahs: Israel Folau, Alofa Alofa, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (captain), Stephen Hoiles, Kane Douglas, Jacques Potgieter, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Tola Latu, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Will Skelton, Mitchell Chapman, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbin, Matt Carraro, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Peter Betham (two to be omitted).

- Stuff

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