Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Wallabies coach has no worries yet, mate...

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Cheika's abrasive public persona probably isn't accurate but, more than that, he is a very deep thinker about the game and is thirsty for knowledge. Photo / Getty Images
Cheika's abrasive public persona probably isn't accurate but, more than that, he is a very deep thinker about the game and is thirsty for knowledge. Photo / Getty Images

Is Australian rugby in a bit of trouble? After this latest round of Super Rugby matches, you might think so.

However, after the Crusaders emphatically beat the Waratahs in Christchurch on Friday (and before the Chiefs hammered the Rebels and Blues held off the Force), I spoke to a man who convinced me that maybe that's not the case.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was at AMI Stadium watching his former Sydney-based team lose 29-10 to the Crusaders and, after I sat down with him for a chat, I left with the impression that the international game over the ditch is, in fact, in pretty good hands.

I've always had a lot of time for Cheika. I remember meeting him for the first time after his Waratahs team beat the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final in Sydney in 2014.

Assistant coach Daryl Gibson invited me to their celebration and at first I didn't want to go, thinking I'd be gatecrashing, but the first person I saw when I arrived was Cheika.

He couldn't have been more pleasant, thanking me for coming and saying it was a great game and they were delighted by the result. I also bumped into him in Argentina and he invited me to a Boca Juniors game.

Cheika's abrasive public persona probably isn't accurate but, more than that, he is a very deep thinker about the game and is thirsty for knowledge.

He is a successful businessman who doesn't need the job really but does it because he loves the game.

Sitting down with him, he said: "Mate, what are you seeing this year? What are you seeing in the game, the trends, what other teams doing?" It can be easy to think you know it all as a head coach but he doesn't.

New Zealanders probably see him in a different light but I think he's misunderstood. One of the first things he said to me was, "yes, it's just about time to get back into it in front of the cameras making mistakes and having a dig here and there".

Because although the All Blacks v Wales test series next month is highly anticipated, perhaps more significant is the Australia v England series, with coach Eddie Jones' return to his homeland and all that that will bring.

I said "you must be panicking" - the Crusaders were dominant and few Australian teams have pushed the Kiwi sides very hard this season. But he's not too bothered. He has his own plans and systems and feels he will knit together a strong team.

His ultimate goal is to beat the All Blacks - he can see the ABs are the benchmark but he's not daunted. You can see why players respond to him.

Two of Australia's best players, David Pocock and Michael Hooper, aren't playing their best rugby and the Aussie Super teams are battling, but I don't think that matters. The man who got the Wallabies to a World Cup final in his first full season in the job is confident he has a few tricks left.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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