Michael Cheika is under pressure as teh Wallabies continue to struggle on the field. (AAP Image/Darren England)
Michael Cheika is under pressure as teh Wallabies continue to struggle on the field. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Cheika won’t buckle under pressure

WALLABIES boss Michael Cheika has likened his coaching predicament to that of Collingwood's Nathan Buckley last year when critics howled for his head before the march unfolded to Saturday's AFL grand final.

Holding his nerve as a coach under siege was the attitude that Cheika on Monday distilled as vital because he never wants to make a soft call just to please detractors and buy time.

Another of the big decisions in his Wallabies' "plan" is in his lap right now because he must decide whether to persevere with his Kurtley Beale-Matt Toomua midfield for Saturday's crunch Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth.

Cheika openly said Bernard Foley was still his top five-eighth, even in the act of dropping him, so it will be fascinating to judge whether Beale-Toomua is truly just an experiment or a longer-term change of direction for the backline.

Either way, this rocky run of just two wins from nine Tests must be ended by something special to stem the public perception that the Wallabies are on the nose.

Michael Cheika has some big selection decisions to make for the Wallabies’ clash with the Springboks. Picture: AAP
Michael Cheika has some big selection decisions to make for the Wallabies’ clash with the Springboks. Picture: AAP

Beating the Springboks in South Africa for the first time since 2011 would be an accomplishment but beating the last-start conquerors of the All Blacks has a far more powerful ring to it if it can be pulled off.

"They wanted to cut Nathan Buckley's head off last year didn't they and he's in a grand final this week," Cheika said of Buckley masterminding the rise from 13th in the AFL last year.

"I think the year I won the European Cup with (Irish club) Leinster six months before everyone was saying you've got to give that guy the boot.

"It's about who holds their nerve."

It's not just on the Foley call but on issues like the groundswell urging the promotion of 135kg Taniela Tupou to starting prop when Cheika has a "no hurry" stamp on him to learn his trade as a supersub for a seventh Test in Port Elizabeth.

"To not be too stubborn (is part of it too because) you've got to move the dial sometimes when things get to a certain situation," Cheika said. "(But) there's a difference between moving just to appease others and moving to actually get the outcome that you want."

Buckley and Richmond's Damien Hardwick are great examples of AFL coaches who have fought through a barrage of criticism to savour success. That might yet be Cheika's path but, equally, he doesn't want to be Anthony Griffin, dumped as Penrith coach in the NRL just weeks before the big show, the finals.

Michael Hooper is expected to return fro a hamstring injury against the Springboks. Picture: Getty Images
Michael Hooper is expected to return fro a hamstring injury against the Springboks. Picture: Getty Images

The expected return of Michael Hooper from a hamstring twinge is a big positive because the skipper is back running at full pace while lineout-savvy Ned Hanigan is frontrunner to be the new blindside flanker for the absent Lukhan Tui.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle has floated the general idea that successful Wallabies of the past could possibly add valuable external voices to the Cheika roadshow yet the coach didn't care to fan the talk.

Let's, for example, throw up a John Eales or George Gregan to offer a different selection viewpoint or insight.

"Who has been talking about that...if you're going to ask me, you've got to tell me what they are going to be doing," Cheika said. "I don't know ... it's up to them (Rugby Australia)."

Cheika and his family were set up securely off the field before he took on the Wallabies role in late 2014 and he feels that this not being "a job" prevents anxious, short-term, job-saving decisions.

"This is where not doing it for a job, but as a passion and something you love, makes all the difference," Cheika said. "If you are doing this because it's just a job and you are looking to pay your mortgage that's when you move the dial for others."



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