Michael Cheika on verge of major double
July 30, 2014
Cheika said he was happy with the underdog status heading into the Super Rugby final © Getty Images
New South Wales Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is banking on a proven formula as he strives to complete a feat of overseeing title triumphs in second-tier rugby competitions in both hemispheres. In 2009, Cheika guided Ireland's Leinster to the Heineken Cup, the northern hemisphere's major tournament below Test level, contested by leading European club and provincial teams.
On Saturday, Cheika can add the southern hemisphere's closest equivalent by winning the Super Rugby crown with NSW. He is adopting a similar lead-up to the one that paid dividends five years ago. Cheika, who is in his second season with NSW, noted parallels between the two campaigns.
Both Leinster and NSW vanquished a fierce domestic rival in their respective semi-final to book a showdown with a celebrated and consistent trophy-winning team from another country.
"In that season we [Leinster] had to overcome a domestic rival [Munster] before we went on to [English club] Leicester, which had a rich heritage in winning European cups," Cheika recalled. "We just relaxed a little bit that week, earlier in the week.
"Maybe on the second day, like today [Tuesday], start to say `right, let's forget about all that other stuff and focus on what we need to do to beat this team', then do the best we can on the Saturday. That's pretty much the chart we're trying to follow here."
Labelled the underdogs heading into the final, Cheika said he was happy to take on the title rather than insulted some pundits rate the Crusaders as favourites. Used to fighting for the tag throughout the season and asked if he was insulted by the title Cheika said "usually we're trying to play for that status, they are just giving it to us perfectly. We don't even have to worry about it, we don't even have to fight for it. I'm not insulted. They are the ones who have been in the finals the last 11 years or whatever."
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While bookmakers on both sides of the Tasman have the Waratahs as marginal favourites, plenty of chatter from New Zealand suggests the seven-time title winning Crusaders should enjoy that status.
"I would have expected that's how they would have thought," Cheika said. "I suppose probably part of our history has tended them to lead to that conclusion, that we won't deliver on the day. But I suppose we've been told now for a while.
"Everyone thought we'd fall over at some stage. We'll just go out there and play as we have all season, the best we possibly can. We'll try and play really attacking footy and see if we can give them some trouble."
Cheika doubted the Crusaders would be haunted by any demons by not having added to their record tally of titles since 2008, having lost in a semi-final or final every subsequent year. "I doubt it very highly, you get a certain air of confidence when you are continually in the finals," Cheika said.
NSW lost both their previous finals away to the Crusaders, but Cheika didn't intend broaching that subject with his players.
"I don't think so, what's the relevance?" Cheika said. "It's not even worth addressing last week at this stage because that's over. You've got to stop taking the pats on the back and reading all the good things, even though they are nice. Just focus on the challenge that's going to come up on Saturday night."
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Cheika wouldn't be drawn on whether winning the Super title would be an even bigger accomplishment than his northern hemisphere triumph.
"I don't think this week is the one for the big statements that this will be greater," Cheika said. "Once I've won it, I'll have a think about it, because it's really moot point until then."
Cheika is focused on building a successful style of play that will serve NSW well for many years rather than just padding his resume with another title this weekend.
"If I can sit in the grandstand in 10 years time watch the team play and they are still playing the same way with the same competitive spirit, and [I can] say I was a part of building that, that's more the rewards I'm looking for," Cheika said. "Short-term success is great as well. If you can get one of those [titles] it's always a great night and a great thing for our supporters and of course I want to win it."