The man hailed as the mastermind who brought the Wallabies’ scrum back from the dead has paid head coach Michael Cheika the ultimate compliment.
Mario Ledesma, the hard-as-nails hooker capped 84 times by Argentina, says he would love to have been coached by Cheika, the man who recruited him.
It’s an important insight because it helps to explain how, in less than a year, Cheika has been able to transform the Wallabies from a rabble, at a low ebb following the demise of Ewen McKenzie’s tenure, to not just Rugby World Cup contenders but favourites in some eyes.
He’s been able to harness the potential of his players, including misfit Kurtley Beale, whose off-field antics, and the regrettable Di Patston affair, ultimately led to McKenzie’s exit.
And, most importantly, he’s instilled a sense of pride in the Wallabies jersey once again.
“He’s a very genuine guy,” Ledesma explains.
“He tries to make people better and tries to get people to really play to their potential.
“Not only play to their potential but be the best person you can be.
“I’m convinced 100 per cent, if you’re a better person it will have an impact on your game.
“He makes everybody want to work for themselves and work for each other. That makes everybody better.
“To be around that energy is really, really positive.”
Captain Stephen Moore and centre Matt Giteau will notch their 100th Test matches this Sunday (Monday morning AEDT) in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with Scotland – becoming just the seventh and eighth Wallabies to reach the elite milestone.
It’s a magnificent achievement, but Moore went to great lengths to play it down this week, determined not to let it intrude on the team’s preparation.
It’s the Cheika way. The team comes first, always.
Cheika in his playing days was a rugged No.8 for Sydney club side Randwick, who rubbed shoulders with Wallabies on a weekly basis – but never joined them in the gold jersey.
Moore says his passion for the team and their history stands out in his coaching.
“He gives the feeling that he’d like to be out there playing,” Moore tells AAP.
“He gets out on the field and trains with us and often says he never got the opportunity to play for Australia.
“But he makes you feel like he would love to have done it.
“He’s getting to coach now at the highest level. I know it means a lot to him.
“The boys really want to work hard for him and for each other.”
Moore, who tore his ACL just minutes into his Wallabies captaincy debut under McKenzie last year, says he learns something new every day from the worldy Cheika, who speaks fluently in English, French, Italian and Arabic.
Cheika had no hesitation in re-installing Moore as captain this year when the hooker became available again following his knee reconstruction.
Moore, meanwhile, proudly accepted the honour and now has his sights set on joining greats Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales in lifting the Webb Ellis Cup on behalf of his team.
All thanks to Cheika, the master coach intent on deflecting praise at every opportunity who has brought respect back to the Wallabies jersey by giving it back to the players.
“He’s a very honest guy with all the players and I think they really respect that,” said Moore.