Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Wallabies coach tilts his hat at All Blacks

Michael Cheika. Photo / Getty Images
Michael Cheika. Photo / Getty Images

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has taken a break from needling the All Blacks and surprisingly shown some grudging respect for New Zealand's psychological resilience.

He's even gone as far to suggest, or at least imply, that the Wallabies are aspiring to build the same culture of mental toughness as their old foe.

Whatever other qualities Cheika brings to his role, there's no doubting his intelligence, drive and emotional awareness. Since he arrived in the job in November 2014, he's made it one of his priorities to toughen the Wallabies both physically and mentally.

The latter is that bit harder as it's not something that can be learned any way other than through experience. Mental skills can be coached, they can be studied and they can be practised. But ultimately it's by experiencing situations first hand that players learn to trust their judgment and the art of staying focused and calm under pressure.

That the Wallabies haven't held the Bledisloe Cup since 2002 says plenty about their lack of mental toughness and for how long that has been an affliction.

Cheika knows that to win consistently, to actually beat the All Blacks two tests in succession, he's got to find a way to build into the psyche of his players a conviction that they can claw their way out of the deepest holes.

"We are trying to move forward both in our game and in our attitudes as well. Building the right style of play and being competitive on any given day. I don't think we need to go back there [World Cup final] for motivation. There is plenty of motivation just putting on the gold jersey and we know we are playing the best team in the world. When the game is against you, when you are running up the hill, that is almost when you enjoy it a bit more as a footballer or being involved in the game.

"How to be more resilient, that is something we really want to build into our game ... more mental toughness. I don't think we have been brilliant at that in the past and we have been working really hard on that for last 18 months now. We want to continue to build that mental toughness so that when a new player comes into the squad he really feels that."

Having lost around 800 test caps since the World Cup final - the last time the All Blacks played the Wallabies - New Zealand's long standing resilience has potentially been lessened.

Cheika's not spending any time hoping that's the case because he feels that what the All Blacks have done is set their team up to be able to seamlessly welcome new players.

"What they have been able to do is breed that into their future. I don't want to talk about their team because I don't want to have any backlash but I think they have ... every player that comes in, you can really see it in their eyes. They have learned that from those experienced campaigners they have had in the past. ... we will be doing our best to challenge that on Saturday.

"Like my counterpart [All Blacks coach Steve Hansen] over there says ... we have got problems and we can wallow in that stuff or we can see what we need to improve. Over the last 18 months since I have been involved that's what we have done.

"As you do that more and more we start to build up resilience and mental toughness and then you can start to counteract that in a game more regularly."

- NZ Herald

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