These are surprisingly great days for trans-Tasman rugby.

The friction is so fierce there are flames shooting out. Wallaby coach Michael "McEnroe" Cheika versus the New Zealand rugby machine is brilliant. Keep it up Mad Mike. We love the racket.

Cheika is the antidote to the image-obsessed, statement-issuing New Zealand rugby corporation which ignores how important tribalism is to sport.

Apparently enraged by anNZ Herald graphic depicting him as a clown, and wanting to divert attention away from another loss, Cheika went on the attack after the dead rubber Bledisloe Cup game.


It has taken this punter a day or so to digest the firestorm. The verdict: two thumbs up to Cheika, for giving rugby's sickly atmosphere a giant two fingered salute. This is freedom. Cheika is pouring acid over rugby's saccharine ways.

The provincial competition is devoid of character and conflict. Super Rugby is a crock of you know what. The All Blacks' victory march is a procession. Then along came Mad Mike.

Conflict in professional sport should be the norm. Look at what goes on between managers in the English Premier League, probably the most successful sports competition on the planet.

Cheika needs to turn down the so-called olive branch from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who reckoned: "For a long time the relationship with Australia has probably been a little frosty and maybe we need to sit down and have a beer together and sort it out."

We love frosty. Perhaps Hansen is working to the old line, about keeping your enemies even closer than your friends. The All Blacks want to bundle the rugby world up, then trample it to pieces. And that beer would turn Cheika's much-needed aggression and desperation into a lie.

Take your beer and dispense it in a dark place, should be Cheika's reply. We love sport with this kind of edge which, presumably, is why spectators here still try to boo Quade Cooper.

Hansen may have been all matey with previous Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer, but is that the relationship we really want with the old enemy?

Where would we be without cricket's 1980s underarm controversy, and Prime Minister Rob Muldoon's reaction: "It was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow".

We don't want all sport to be burning with rage, but it does need a decent dose of antagonism to get the blood boiling. Tennis tantrums anyone? John McEnroe versus the world. John McEnroe versus himself. Who will ever forget that?

Rugby wants to play the nice guy, while sticking a hand deep into our wallets. We are sports fans, not a cross between career types from the diplomatic corps and a cash register.

Look at trans-Tasman rugby league tests, which have fallen flat partly because everyone is too nice to each other. Remember David Kidwell v Willie Mason? Yes, yes, yes. Remember the game? Not so much.

A few of us were tempted to reach for a bucket when Kiwis forward Tohu Harris admitted he was "in awe" of Aussie stars and Melbourne team mates Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk before the recent test in Perth. No, no, no, no, no as the league icon and commentator Phil Gould would say.

The online crowd has flocked to the latest Bledisloe Cup game helped hugely by the NZ Herald graphic of Cheika which has launched "Clowngate". As I write this, the top five stories on the NZME website are all about the Eden Park test, with two of them clown-related.

And this feels real. Cheika is not making this stuff up. The man sounds unhinged at times, and you do wonder if he needs counselling. A coaching box may be in for a serious beating.

But to steal a famous All Black diversionary line, all credit to this opposition. We're talking about you, Michael Cheika. Thanks for being crazy. Thanks for keeping it real.