Former Test captain Stirling Mortlock has hailed Michael Cheika’s masterful man management as the secret behind the Wallabies’ stunning transformation into Rugby World Cup title fancies.
Less than a year after being thrown into the hot seat five days before the Wallabies’ spring tour of Europe, Cheika has Australia three wins away from lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented third time.
From all-time low sixth in the world rankings in May, the Wallabies are suddenly the All Blacks’ greatest threat to back-to-back crowns.
And Mortlock has no doubts Cheika is the coach with the Midas touch after watching the wily mentor rewrite eligibility rules, convince players to cut short overseas stints and basically do whatever it takes to assemble a World Cup-winning squad.
Six months ago, it was inconceivable for Australian fans to believe the likes of Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Dean Mumm and Kane Douglas would be wearing the gold jumper at the global showpiece, let alone be integral members of the resurgent Wallabies.
“For him to have got all these players back and on the right terms and to absolutely contribute in any way to the team says a lot about Cheika,” Mortlock told AAP ahead of Australia’s Pool A crunch match with Wales on Sunday morning (AEDT).
“His influence is resounding. It sends a strong message of the respect that the players have for Cheika for them to drop what they’re doing to get back to Aussie soil and to be part of it.
“Also, what Cheik’s done as far as coming in and changing some of the rules – the eligibility rules and everything else – has shown his intent to get the best team possible to be playing in our jersey and that’s really critical too.”
Mortlock says it takes a special quality to pull off what Cheika has after being handed the coaching reigns in the bitter aftermath to Ewen McKenzie’s messy resignation.
“Michael Cheika is a coach who has already proven he provides a fantastic culture, gets good people around him and all the players respond significantly to him and to the environment he creates,” he said.
“From what I’ve seen and from what I hear, Cheika isn’t the sort of person that will say something to your face and do something else.
“He absolutely stands on his integrity and on his word. He doesn’t surgarcoat things to his players either.
“He tells them exactly what he wants from everyone and treats them with respect like adults. That’s how it should be.
“The guys really respond to his sometimes abrasive or brutally honest approach.”