Michael Cheika isn't the complete maniac he's made out to be.

Part-maniac, perhaps, but when trying to decipher a seemingly hot-headed rant of the Wallabies coach, it pays to factor in another of his character traits: the cunning.

Cheika is a passionate bloke but it's a mistake to assume he lets emotions take hold of the steering wheel and then braces for impact.

There is always some method to his madness and we saw another example at the weekend in New Zealand, with what the Kiwis are calling "Clowngate".


After the Wallabies lost to New Zealand in Auckland, Cheika sailed past the "no try" refereeing controversy that melted Twitter and blew up about being illustrated as a clown in the morning paper.

It was a pretty minor sledge in the scheme of things but Cheika and Stephen Moore then freed the arms and spoke about a wider lack of respect from New Zealand towards the Wallabies these days.

Relations between the two sides aren't friendly, admitted Cheika, and he cited the Kiwi insinuation that the Wallabies planted a bug in their Sydney hotel when the story broke in August.

Like the clown thing, linking a media outlet to coaching staff is pretty tenuous but it didn't matter. As with Eddie Jones and FoxSports in June, the fists were raised in New Zealand's general direction.

So what was behind Cheika's outburst?

The pot has been boiling for a while now. Go past the bug and back to Hansen's jibe in June that Cheika was being bullied by Jones. Then throw in the eye gouge that wasn't in Wellington, and another night of frustration with the officials and more home town calls in Auckland.

With priors, Cheika knew he couldn't blow up about referees so the spray had to blow in elsewhere.

You can bet your life the feisty words were calculated. Despite appearances, they always are.

If it was a crazy rant Cheika regretted he wouldn't have repeated it the next day.
Cheika has a history of getting into a scrap for his teams. It has earned him a reputation but make no mistake, the players love it.

It not only takes heat off them, the chin-out attitude works as powerful motivation. If the coach is prepared to go to war for this team/jersey/state/country, then so must I. I will play for that coach.

Talk to any Waratah who won the Super Rugby title under Cheika in 2014 and the power of his personality is acknowledged as a big factor.

One player said of Cheika yesterday: "He's not the lunatic people think. He says things emotionally but I don't doubt for a minute all of this was to say to New Zealand: We are not scared of you."

Interestingly, however, Cheika forbid his players from showing any emotion whatsoever in 2014.

Remember Pokerface?

Cheika banned his players from getting into scraps, shoving matches or even sledging rivals. They were a team on top who didn't want to be dragged down.

The Wallabies, clearly, have not been given the Pokerface order. They're scrapping and shoving and barking more now than in many years.

But that's where the Wallabies are. They don't have the same class and depth as the All Blacks so they need fire and brimstone, and importantly, confidence.

With better breaks from the referee, Australia could have led in the second half and that would have been a different game. Scoreboard pressure is a funny beast.

But they should have also been mentally stronger after the no-try ruling. The game was still there to be won.

Part of Cheika's strategy to build up that mental toughness appears to be getting rid of the nice guy routine.

Australia and New Zealand are old enemies but in recent times there has only been mutual platitudes spoken.

Sincere or not, those kind of words only serves one side. The hate has faded, and that only serves one side too.

Cheika is a product of club rugby and Irish provinces. Sydney clubland was ferociously tribal in the 1980s and Cheika cut his coaching teeth at Leinster, where a mutual loathing with Munster is hardwired.

Praise is issued through gritted teeth up there and it was when Cheika was asked to "comment" on the All Blacks' record that the clown drama unfolded.

"They don't want our comment," Cheika said.

Clearly in Cheika's mind being asked to comment on the All Blacks was being asked to praise them.

Cheika looked to be sending a message to his players. Stop with the praise. They don't respect us. We don't have to take a knee.

Steve Hansen warned Cheika to stop whining but later offered to have a beer and make peace.

He may be waiting a while.