The New South Wales Waratahs trained in the open in Sydney today and the pressure on coach Michael Cheika was obvious as he oversaw the team's final significant practice session before Saturday's Super Rugby final against the Crusaders.
Already on the equivalent of a good behaviour bond after incurring a suspended six-month ban by SANZAR for abusing a cameraman during the Waratahs' loss to the Sharks in Durban, the notoriously volatile head coach was again irritated when a photographer took images of lineout drills.
"What if I come to your work and start f...king photographing you?" Cheika shouted at the photographer situated behind the goal posts at the Kippax ground near Allianz Stadium.
That message got through but soon afterwards the 47-year-old noticed another photographer at the other end of the field, prompting Cheika - in more conciliatory tones - to ask the Waratahs' media manager to warn him to stop shooting.
In April Cheika pleaded guilty to verbally abusing the cameraman at Kings Park on March 29 and was ordered to pay A$6000 to cover legal costs; the ban will be activated if he breaches SANZAR's code of conduct before August 31 next year.
He also had to write a letter of apology to the cameraman after admitting he told the man to "f..k off" at least twice during a sideline confrontation while attempting to pass on instructions to Dave Dennis while his captain was in the sin bin.
Cheika's temper was also evident in Canberra two weeks before the Sharks match where Cheika broke a glass door at GIO Stadium after the Waratahs lost to the Brumbies. When he was coach of Stade Francais in 2011 he was fined $A14,700 for abusing match officials.
At least Cheika had calmed down by the end of the hour-long session which saw the team emerge unscathed from a relatively vigorous work out.
Then, as the support staff packed up, the squad formed a semicircle, linked arms and dropped to their knees, spending more than 10 minutes in the formation before breaking into applause.
Tighthead prop Sekope Kepu explained the ritual started three weeks ago when a senior player was asked to address his teammates on what it meant to be part of the group.
Utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper was chosen today and produced a poem with rhyme, and reason.
"It included everyone ..... it's a massive effort," Kepu said
'It sent shivers down my spine, it was pretty emotional stuff.
"I think when someone goes to that length and includes 30-odd blokes in a poem touching on a little bit on his experience with them or where they've come from and all that kind of stuff is pretty special."
Kepu, who faces a tough set scrummaging battle with Wyatt Crockett, said the effort made by senior players like Ashley-Cooper personified the spirit of a team seeking their first title.
"Regardless of whether you're in the 23 or not everyone's really bought into the culture and everyone just loves being around each other.
"Everybody's got that respect for one another, everyone's got time for one another and hopefully that goes a long way to overcoming what we're facing on Saturday."
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