Pinching a line from the fictional American NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has left no doubt about what he wants from his team for the rest of the year – and the rest of his time in charge.
“If you ain’t first, you’re last,” was the memorable catchcry from Will Ferrell’s character in the comedy Talladega Nights.
He didn’t say it with much of a smile on his face, but Cheika made it clear his thoughts on finishing second and below.
It matters little that Australia surged to an unlikely appearance in last year’s World Cup final – in fact Cheika’s gone to great lengths this week to distance this team from those achievements.
“I don’t remember who was in the World Cup final – I only remember New Zealand won it,” Cheika deadpanned on Thursday.
Victory over Argentina on Saturday night would likely result in a second-place finish in the Rugby Championship for the Wallabies – who currently trail South Africa by one point.
But with the Springboks facing off against the seemingly unstoppable All Blacks in the final round, second place is well and truly up for grabs.
“No one cares about second. Winners are winners, they’re the ones that count,” Cheika said.
While winning is the only thing that matters, Cheika is also determined to create a depth in Australian rugby which will hold it in good stead for a decade to come.
Cheika has blooded 10 debutants already in 2016 – with Bath-based No.8 Leroy Houston a chance to become the eleventh after being named on an extended bench this weekend.
Though he’s insistent that the number of new faces is not an excuse for failure, nor for the fact the Wallabies have won just twice since the World Cup final.
“I think the goal is to go into everything you do, to win, and build that habit,” he said.
“For us, it’s with a new generation of players.
“I’ve always been in that mindset in that i believe in what I do. I don’t know if it’s gutsy or not, but it’s the right to do.
“I still believe we should be winning games,” Cheika added, referencing last week’s tight loss to South Africa and the three-nil sweep to England as examples of matches the Wallabies should be winning.
“I felt they were games we should’ve won even with a changing team.”
Cheika’s steadfast youth policy will be on show once again in Saturday’s historic clash at Twickenham – the first Rugby Championship match played in the northern hemisphere.
Cheika has plumped for an inexperienced locking duo of Rory Arnold and Adam Coleman and handed a run-on debut to No.8 Lopeti Timani, with 22-year-old props Tom Robertson and Allan Alaalatoa named ahead of the experienced James Slipper on the bench.
For the 208cm Arnold, the faith shown by Cheika in the young bucks is admirable.
“There’s not much experience there but you’ve got older guys in the team that have a lot of experience and they’ve been helping all the new capped players coming through,” Arnold said.
“It’s good to have those guys there and have a mixture of young blood coming through as well.”