Wallabies captain Michael Hooper believes Michael Cheika’s midas touch has instilled a firm belief that Australia can win this year’s Rugby World Cup.
The Wallabies have emerged from a ground-breaking three-day workshop in Brisbane with a quiet confidence that they’re on the right track despite Australia slipping to sixth in the world, their lowest position since rankings were introduced in 2003.
Hooper hailed coach Cheika’s ability to unite Australia’s World Cup hopefuls from the country’s five rival Super Rugby franchises as second to none.
“He’s tried to get us playing against each other one night and then to be able to be really good mates the next day and to have the common goal of the World Cup later this year,” Hooper said on Wednesday.
“So this camp we’ve had over the last three days has been a monumental move forward for us.
“Looking around the room at the 51 players there, there’s no doubt we’ve got the talent pool.
“So it’s just about building the other stuff.”
That “other stuff” includes building special bonds between the players and the Wallabies’ new-look coaching staff headed by Cheika and assistants Stephen Larkham and Nathan Grey.
Cheika said the camp – the first of its kind since he replaced Ewen McKenzie before last year’s spring tour in November – was a great start.
“I got a lot more out of it than I imagined initially,” Cheika said. “The players were really positive.
“One of the big parts about being successful in rugby is having a team that’s close, united, with good team spirit and we had a bit of fun while we were up there. We got serious with a few issues as well.
“What was best was the players had the opportunity to mix in a genuine environment where they could talk about footy, talk about what they want to do later in the year and talk honestly in front of each other.”
The camp came less than a fortnight after the NSW Waratahs’ heated derby win over the Brumbies, when David Pocock’s complaint about Jacques Potgieter’s homophobic slurs led to the South African being fined $20,000 by the Australian Rugby Union.
Cheika, though, said it was “not necessary at all” for Pocock to address the squad about the issue.
“That’s a non-event,” he said.
“That comes when you respect people and that’s what we do and we just got on with it.”
In addition to unveiling his Wallabies game plan to Larkham and his preliminary squad, Cheika outlined exactly what he wants from his hopefuls in the countdown to Australia’s tournament opener against Fiji on September 23.
“All the teams that are playing at international are high quality,” he said.
“So it’s about getting the balance between the science and the old-fashioned gut feel to try and get that one per cent extra, or that little advantage or to try to get the opposition to change what they’re doing.
“So making sure that we’ve got the detail at the highest level attended to was really important so that the players are really, really clear before they run onto the field exactly what they need to do.”
Cheika plans to have four or five more “morning after” gatherings between now and the end of the Super Rugby season and will also revive his 51-man squad in the coming week.
He said Karmichael Hunt “needs to play footy” after returning from his drug-related suspension before the code-hopping star can be considered for a call-up.