Whether you believe him or not, Argentina coach Michael Cheika insists Sunday’s (5.10am AEST) Rugby Championship clash against the Wallabies is just another game.
The Mendoza Test marks the first time Cheika has been a head coach against Australia, the country he led from 2014-19 and guided to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.
He has coached against the Wallabies before as an assistant to Mario Ledesma but all eyes will be on ‘Cheik’ at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.
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“My part in it is really quite irrelevant, being Australian or whatever,” Cheika told Morgan Turinui on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven.
“This week it’s one team against another and I’m on the team that’s blue and white. So I’ll be doing everything I can to help them win.”
Cheika said he had been “pretty relaxed” in the build-up to the tournament opener, perhaps because he had already donned the Pumas colours against Australia.
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“That sort of thing’s (heightened emotion) gone now,” he insisted.
“My responsibility is to make sure the guys here are ready. Obviously I’ve watched Australia in the last couple of games and also through doing stuff with Stan too (punditry), been able to see them play.
“I think those guys that I’ve coached are still playing super well. (Marika) Koroibete, Michael Hooper, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa – they’re still really playing excellent rugby. Nic White is playing really good rugby. So it’s going to be a big challenge.”
Cheika has already had three games in the Pumas hot seat, guiding them to a drought-breaking 2-1 home series win over Scotland in July.
The series decider was a typical rollercoaster as Emiliano Boffelli scored a last gasp try to snatch a dramatic 34-31 comeback win.
“The guys said afterwards: ‘welcome to Argentina, we know how to suffer.’ Like, right up to the last minute,” Cheika said.
“One of the things we’ve wanted to work on is being able to deal with adverse situations. We went down 15 points and the finishers came on and did a great job and got the job done in the end which was good.
“We’ve never won a series against Australia here in Argentina but we hadn’t won against Scotland for 15 years – we’re starting to make some firsts. When you get some firsts as a team you start to get credibility with yourself and see you can go a bit further on, with what we are trying to achieve next year (at the World Cup in France).”
As fate would have it, Jed Holloway will make his Wallabies against Cheika on Sunday.
Holloway cut his teeth at the Waratahs under Cheika and thanked him for the tough love early in his career.
“I know what his coaching style is and at the time I probably hated it,” Holloway said.
“But now looking back on it I’m super grateful for the lessons that he taught me and the pressure that he put on me has made me a lot more resilient person this time around.
“I know Cheik, he’ll be fired up, he’ll probably be throwing golf clubs against walls like he did with us at the Waratahs.
“He’ll have them fired up and ready to go and we need to be as well.”
Argentina have won just one of their last 15 Rugby Championship Tests dating back to the 2018 – the historic 2020 victory over the All Blacks in Sydney.
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WALLABIES (15-1): Tom Wright, Jordan Petaia, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (c), Jed Holloway, Matt Philip, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper
Reserves: Lachlan Lonergan, Matt Gibbon, Taniela Tupou, Nick Frost, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge
PUMAS (15-1): Juan Cruz Mallia, Santiago Cordero, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli, Santiago Carreras, Tomas Cubelli, Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Julian Montoya (c), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Thomas Gallo, Joel Sclavi, Santiago Grondona, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Tomas Albornoz, Matias Moroni
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