Michael Cheika reckons the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens has finally given Australian rugby the pre-season focal point it has always needed.
At a time when rugby is usually drowned out by summer sport and AFL and NRL build-ups, there is a palpable buzz around the inaugural edition of the tournament as 14 teams from around the world finalise their preparations.
Cheika will be on hand for both days at Suncorp Stadium to keep a close eye on the five Australian franchises, who he believes are all poised to improve after a dire season in Super Rugby last year.
It might be a sugar-hit and players like Drew Mitchell are unsure where the tens will fit in the long-term rugby calendar, but Cheika sees it as a positive.
“It’s got a bit of a buzz around rugby, the week before Super Rugby starts, and that’s what we need,” Cheika said.
“We need to have more people hearing about the Super Rugby teams so they know it’s starting next weekend, and that’s a really good way to do it.
“It’s something different but it makes a bit of noise because for mine, not enough people watch Super Rugby, and they need to know that it’s on and where it’s going to be and who’s playing.”
Cheika has met with all Australian Super Rugby teams this week and been left encouraged by what he has seen on the back of an awful 2016, when only one side – the Brumbies – finished in the top half of the overall standings.
Those domestic difficulties filtered through to the Wallabies, who were belted repeatedly by England and New Zealand as they won just six out of 15 Test matches for the year.
Big improvements are expected in particular from the Queensland Reds, who should challenge for the Australian conference title after an impressive summer recruiting spree.
“I’m not going to start waxing lyrical or anything like that, but I’ve been really pleased about just the attitudes I’ve seen around,” Cheika said.
“I feel like there’s a good boost. We’ve been working on a lot of things around continuity since I got involved, around getting more collaboration. Slowly but surely that’s starting to come together.
“I believe we’re going to see improved performances throughout Super Rugby teams across the board this season, I really do.”
Cheika said he would probably watch the tens more as a punter than to scrutinise the form of players or teams.
“It’ll be tough, it’ll be hard, so chaps are only going to benefit from getting fit,” he said.