Belfast Telegraph

Michael Cheika enjoys his trip down memory lane with Leinster

By David Kelly

At times it must have felt to Michael Cheika this week that sole refuge was to be found among once familiar Irish accents.

On Wednesday he popped into UCD to witness the revolution in professional Leinster training facilities that were a world away from the habitat he encountered in 2005, when players got changed leaning on their cars and meetings were held in portakabins.

"Leo Cullen was still complaining about the décor," smiles Cheika after meeting up with some old players and head honcho Mick Dawson.

"It was great, considering I was heavily involved in getting all that ready," he says, ahead of Leinster's clash away to Treviso on Sunday and his Australian side's showdown with Ireland at the Aviva tomorrow.

"All in all it was really nice to see. They were very nice to me when I was there. It is just a sign of how far the club has come as well.

"They gave me the opportunity. No one would have given a hobo like me the opportunity to come and coach, especially in the situation they were.

"It would have been much easier for them to get someone more established at the time. They took a gamble on me, in a serious way, and I learned a lot with the players I got to coach and the process I went though."

He returns as the new Australia coach but any semblance that he may be smelling of roses is haunted by the stench of scandal that whisked him into the hotseat so peremptorily just a few weeks ago. He has found himself husbanding a brand and a team as psychologically scarred as the outfit he first discovered in Leinster; he will aim to achieve a parallel culture change now, but with less time and under unenviably more pressure.

That much can be gleaned by a testy public press conference with the Australian media, coursing the outrage back home that still disputes the merits of enfant terrible Kurtley Beale's right to be in the squad.

Journalists wonder why he is included despite not yet paying an ARU fine imposed after the infamous texting scandal that brought down Cheika's predecessor, and good friend, Ewen McKenzie, and why there is a purported media ban on the player speaking.

"I didn't know he hadn't paid his fine," says Cheika. "I'm looking after the footie thing. I'm sure it will be looked after. We're not cheating anyone, if that's the inference.

Cheika couldn't refuse this gig and, as much as it may seem like a poisoned chalice, he is proud to be the self-styled general of this team.

Reflecting on the immense challenges that lie ahead,leading a Wallaby camp even his players have previously branded "toxic", Cheika added: "I have no doubt about the players I trust them.

"It's up to me as the leader of the band to drive that behaviour all the time on field and off field.

"So that people do want to get up at 2am in the morning to watch them play, and if it goes wrong still be proud of the way they play."

Belfast Telegraph

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