Friends and foe for Cheika

Michael Cheika hopes to clash with some of his old Leinster charges when his Waratahs side face The British & Irish Lions on Saturday but he insists the tourists will have plenty of firepower regardless of who they pick later today. [more]

Friends and foe for Cheika

Michael Cheika hopes to clash with some of his old Leinster charges when his Waratahs side face The British & Irish Lions on Saturday but he insists the tourists will have plenty of firepower regardless of who they pick later today.

Cheika spent five years at Leinster after joining the Irish province in May 2005, leading them to a maiden Heineken Cup crown in 2009, as well as a Celtic League triumph in 2008.

The former Australian U21 back rower worked closely with a host of current Lions squad players during his time in Dublin, with Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Sean O’Brien, Brian O’Driscoll and Jonathan Sexton all starring under his stewardship.

Cheika left Leinster for Stade Francais three years ago before moving to Sydney at the start of the current southern hemisphere season and he is now targeting a real battle with The Lions, whoever gets the nod from Warren Gatland this weekend.

“I'm a bit disappointed they all played on Tuesday because I would have liked to get a shot on a few of them!” said a smiling Cheika.

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“Not me personally but I have a few players in the team who could. Those lads would know that's the way and that's what I would have liked them to do when I was coaching them.

“That would have been a great opportunity for us to clash. It would have felt a bit weird for me but there's still a chance some of them might play.

“We're playing against a team with massive artillery so if we start looking down the barrel of one or two players it's only going to lead to disappointment. So I'd say, just anything in red that moves we'll have a crack at.

“From our point of view, we're going to have a strategy to go out there and play the game a certain way. Queensland went out there with their strategy and I don't think we can play like that, so we're going to have a different strategy to play our game.

“We certainly won't be going out there to look for a glorious defeat. We'll be doing our best and, like I said to the lads, if there's a one per cent chance of us winning the game, we've got to take that one per cent and do what we can with it.”

Cheika admits he has watched on with pride as his old Leinster players have gone on to establish themselves as leading lights in the global game.

He gave Kearney, O’Brien and Sexton their professional debuts and has been impressed with the way they’ve progressed both during and after his time in Ireland.  

“I’m proud. I was involved, not responsible, in the development of these players and having faith in the system,” added Cheika, who says his experiences at Leinster are having a positive impact on his spell with the Waratahs.

“Jonny (Sexton) is going very well. Just the confidence in the player and the way he's setting up the play and carrying the ball in both hands and keeping the opposition on the back foot – he's really matured into an excellent footballer.

“He deserves it because he's a competitive bugger and he wants to fight his way to the top, even when he's at the top. I think you'll see the best come out of him on this tour.

“That experience in Leinster is really helping me in what we're doing here in New South Wales. I learned a lot from that experience in how to bring a team round and implement a winning attitude and maybe bring back some of the old-school values in rugby that in the sanitary professionalism have sometimes got lost.

“I think at Leinster they've got a perfect balance of that. You've only got to look at the way O'Driscoll's been playing on this tour to see what type of team they are because they're the leaders. He's still at his best and he's what, 50 now?! Is he 51 or 52? He's still as strong as an ox, he's been brilliant.

“So I am proud of being involved with those guys, but if the opportunity comes up to cut a few of them down we'll have a go at them.”

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