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Ireland v Australia: Cheika's men have not got the time to feel fatigued


Wide awake: Michael Cheika

Wide awake: Michael Cheika

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Wide awake: Michael Cheika

How did you sleep last night? Imagine if this was the first question your boss asked you when you arrived into work every morning.

Imagine if your workload for the day was slightly modified based on the quality of your sleep the night before. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Monitoring how well players sleep is a small aspect of the Ireland squad's preparation for games like today's against Australia. But with so much extra focus and pressure around the two head coaches, just how well have Joe Schmidt and Michael Cheika been sleeping this week?

Although South Africa are ranked No2 in the world, today's game always had a bang of The Big One about it - because it was in the third Test last November that Ireland played like the best team in the world against the best team in the world. Because the last time a Schmidt team was infiltrated by insecurity in their play was against Australia.

Today's game plans have been formulated by two of the smartest coaches in rugby. We get a kick out of pitting coaches against each other. Like ex-Donegal boss Jim McGuinness versus everyone else in gaelic football. Or Jose Mourinho versus, well, who cares. But Schmidt versus Cheika? Now that deserves the hype.

Before the November series, Tommy Bowe said: "Joe doesn't sleep at night thinking about how we can get better, how he can push the team on - he wants to be the top team out there." Schmidt has probably redacted any mention of Ireland's current ranking of No3 in the world. Does this elevation equate to a target on their backs? What about any targeting of Irish backs in today's game?

In Johnny Sexton's autobiography Becoming A Lion, the No10 recalls a conversation he had with Sean O'Brien before the Lions played Cheika's team, the NSW Waratahs, on the 2013 tour in Australia.

"You know they're going to go after you tomorrow night, Sexto, don't you?"

"Why would you say that?"

"Because Cheika will tell them to go after you."

"He wouldn't do that. Sure he knows I'm hoping to play in a Test match next week."

"Wise up, will you?"

Sure enough, Sexton said he was "hit hard four times, all of them verging on late, had my ankle stamped and had a prop lean on my windpipe to the point I thought I was going to pass out. When I saw Cheiks being interviewed on the side of the pitch afterwards, I called him a name I can't repeat here".

Sexton added he said it with half a smile. I asked him on Thursday if he expects any special treatment from Cheika's team today. He said "maybe". If anything for Sexton, it was probably a good chance to flag that big brother, aka the TMO, will be watching.

There's probably plenty Cheika doesn't lose sleep over. Like what one Aussie writer wrote after the Wallabies defeat to France last weekend: "The messiah mantle can now be dropped from Michael Cheika's job title."

But what about the latest effort to tame Kurtley Beale? Defending against this mercurial talent can make for a testy 80 minutes. Defending his reputation can make for a full-time job. Beale's latest story is he was fined AUS$48,000 (£26,500) for sending a lewd picture message to the Australian team's ex-business manager Di Patston. He was found guilty but avoided any suspension. He's on the bench today. For Cheika, selecting the utility back was straightforward: "He'll pay his fine and he'll play his rugby. It's really simple."

Cheika was his usual high-energy self at Wallabies training earlier this week. He laughed and joked with the players as they got ready. And as he gathered them in a circle before he called out the team to play Ireland, there were a few rounds of applause from players for their team-mates. The optics looked good.

They need to be. This will be the squad's fourth game in four weeks in four different countries. Today they come up against an Irish team which has developed a total conviction with winning as opposed to an unconscious association with defeat. In other words, Ireland look pretty hard to beat.

Continue that today, and even Schmidt will probably sleep more soundly. For now anyway.

Belfast Telegraph