Michael Cheika: Team was getting hate mail

CHRIS BARCLAY IN SYDNEY
Last updated 17:15 01/08/2014
Michael Cheika
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GAME CHANGER: Michael Cheika brought Irish side Leinster out of the shadow of their great rivals Munster. He now stands on the brink of equaling that achievement in Super Rugby.

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Unusually it was Michael Cheika who found himself on the receiving end, even if the abuse wasn't personal when he was appointed head coach of the NSW Waratahs after another forlorn Super Rugby campaign.

The abrasive former club rugby No 8 was appointed after Australian rugby's under-achieving franchise finished a disappointing 11th in 2012 - an outcome that prompted disillusioned fans to detail their frustrations for head office.

Cheika, a Heineken Cup-winning coach with Leinster in 2009, could afford to smile when, on the eve of the Waratahs' historic home final with the Crusaders, he recalled handling the correspondence.

"It's been really funny," said Cheika, who is better known for his stern demeanour.

"When I first came we were getting some hate mail.

"What we tried to do ... I tried to get their numbers and I'd give them a call."

And the thrust of his conciliatory message was the team was going to play a vibrant, expansive brand of rugby: "This is what we're going to do," he vowed.

"Hopefully we'll stay with it and we'll see how we go."

Ultimately the Waratahs under Cheika travel across town to ANZ Stadium where regardless of whether they celebrate their first championship, those critics have already been won over.

"I've had at least half a dozen of those people ring me back this week saying: 'It doesn't matter what happens, we love the way you play and it's something we want to be a part of'," Cheika revealed as the Waratahs completed their preparations at Allianz Stadium.

In an ultra-competitive Sydney sporting market, the rejuvenated Waratahs, are for this week at least, holding their own with the NRL and high-flying Sydney Swans.

Whether they can also gain parity or dominate the Crusaders remains to be seen, but Cheika is determined his team will at least look the part before what is expected to be a record crowd for a Super Rugby final.

"We just want to be true to our identity and play that style and play it well enough to win," he said, wary of the Crusaders, although they have not yet lifted the Super 15 version of the trophy.

"Even if they try to come at us and it doesn't work out in the rucks ... a bit like the game against the Brumbies (in the semifinal) where we got stifled a bit there. (The key is to) keep trying to do that, keep trying to play our way out of it.

"People might think that's naive. You know 'you can't win finals football like that' but that's us, that's the way we're going to play.

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"We're not really worried about losing. We're thinking about what we can do to try and win: put pressure on the opposition, play our style of game, get the fans into the game."

Slight favourites with bookmakers on both sides of the Tasman, the Waratahs justifiably confront an opponent they have not beaten since February 2004 with the confidence instilled by finishing top of the table with the best attack and defensive statistics - an unbeaten home record and a game plan that has so far compensated for a vulnerable lineout.

Their ability to capitalise on Brumbies' errors was a cornerstone of last weekend's win as Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley both scored against the run of play and Cheika felt the team that took those chances would prevail.

"There's so many statistics in rugby you can go back to, but the key statistic really is how many of the opportunities you got did you convert?"

- Stuff

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