Michael Cheika will wear his NSW gear on Friday night before donning his Wallabies coaching hat on Saturday as he continues juggling the Waratahs’ Super Rugby title defence with all-important World Cup planning.
Cheika insists his focus will be squarely on the Waratahs when they tackle the Brumbies in a massive match in Canberra, but his attention will inevitably – and quickly – turn to the Wallabies cause.
The morning after trying to plot the Brumbies’ downfall, Cheika will meet with ACT coach Stephen Larkham, his Wallabies assistant, to dissect a conference derby that not only has finals ramifications for both sides but will also undoubtedly influence the two chief national selectors.
“I’ll take a look at it on the tape and get a different context and see how players performed,” Cheika said.
“Not because some of them are playing against rivals in their position, but more because it’s good quality oppositions against each other and that’s where you want to see your top players perform.”
Much has been made of the head-to-head duel between David Pocock and Michael Hooper, but Cheika says the Australian No.7 jumper certainly won’t be handed to which of the two champion flankers has the greatest influence on Friday night’s outcome.
“We look at it a little different as coaches to commentators and the people from the outside,” he said.
“Obviously it’s going to be a nice battle and that’s what we want in rugby. We want to have those things to talk about and get excited about with these types of match-ups.
“But the (number) sevens rarely come across each other. It’s usually one seven trying to pick on the other guys in the team and so forth because they find themselves in different parts of the field because of the attack and defensive shape of your team.”
Cheika said Pocock and Hooper were such consistent and classy performers that they’d continue to wage a ding-dong battle for the Wallabies’ starting spot right up until the start of the Rugby Championship in three months.
But with the two having such contrasting playing styles, deciding who ultimately gets the nod come the Test season will be determined more by the balance selectors are seeking from the Wallabies pack and, in particular, the back row.
“I can assure you that what happens tomorrow night is not going to decide who gets selected,” Cheika said.
“There’s definitely more than one game involved in any selection process.”
Cheika is urging the Waratahs’ and Brumbies’ World Cup hopefuls to bash each other on Friday night before coming together for the good of the Wallabies on Saturday.
“Like we said from the start, we want to learn how to get stuck into each other that night and then be together planning to play for Australia together the next,” Cheika said.
“That’s the attitude we want to build. Friday night it’s on.”