Cheika's Super double
Sun, 03 Aug 2014 09:11
I really believe in this team a lot
Michael Cheika has spoke repeatedly about 'building a dynasty' at the Waratahs, but he has already left his own mark on the game.
Cheika, who won the European Cup with Leinster in 2009, has now achieved a rare double - winning both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere's biggest prizes outside Test rugby.
The Waratahs ended 19 years of Super Rugby heartache with a nail-biting 33-32 victory over the seven-time champion Crusaders in Sydney at the weekend - which capped a stellar season for the Waratahs and was hailed as setting a new standard for Australian teams.
"They're both great, but the thing that's extra here is that I had all my family and friends and it's my home state," he told a post-match media briefing.
The showdown between the best of Australia and New Zealand in Super Rugby also heightened interest in the Rugby Championship, which will be opened by the Wallabies and All Blacks on the same ground in two weeks.
The victory capped the revolution Cheika has inspired in his two years back in Sydney, transforming an underachieving team coming off its worst season and regularly booed off the park by dwindling crowds into Southern Hemisphere champions.
For Cheika the triumph was built on getting all the little things right.
"We've really hung in in situations where we've struggled this year," the jubilant Sydneysider told reporters.
"Because of the way we play, you can really get into trouble if teams come hard at you.
"We lost our way a bit in the second half and we had to get ourselves back on track. But we really persisted. And that persistence in the small things is the really good character in the team."
It was not just the title the Waratahs celebrated, but also how their self-belief had ended an 11-match losing streak against the Crusaders dating back 10 years.
"I really believe in this team a lot. Many times over the last two seasons we've been able to dig ourselves out of a hole," Cheika said.
"Our persistence showed out in the end."
After the Waratahs opening blitz in which they raced to a 14-0 lead before a record Super Rugby crowd of 61,823, there was nothing between the two sides, who showcased why they dominated the standings at the end of the regular season.
Behind them were beaten semifinalists Sharks and Brumbies, with the Sharks the only South African side to make the play-offs that also included New Zealand sides Chiefs and Highlanders.
"The NSW Waratahs have raised the bar for the Australian conference and their success is a true testament to the quality of rugby they have produced this season," Australian Rugby Union Chief Executive Bill Pulver said.
He said it highlighted the improvement in Australian rugby which could only be beneficial ahead of the looming international series.
"Our five Super Rugby teams collectively won more matches this year than they ever have in Super Rugby with 40 wins this year compared to 37 in 2013 or 32 in 2012.
"Australian rugby now turns its focus towards the 2014 Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup."
Cheika said he had particularly enjoyed the reaction of his players when the late penalty, which at 44 metres was outside Foley's normal range, was awarded for a Richie McCaw ruck infringement.
"What I liked about it was that the players really believed in him, there was no hesitation, no doubt, he stepped up and said 'I'll take responsibility for this," he said.
"That really pleased me because one thing we've been trying to do here is to get people to take responsibility, not worrying about losing or not making the kick."
Cheika has another year left on his contract and, despite being linked with the Argentine national team, said he was going nowhere even if he had already achieved his main goal.
"We made ourselves the opportunity this year and we took it and that was really nice," he said.
"It does not mean that we're not going to try and do it again next year, I can guarantee you that."
Injured captain Dave Dennis shed tears on the sideline.
"I had all my family and friends, this is my home state, and I was moved and touched by the crowd," Cheika said after the victory.
"This year has almost been like the year New South Welshmen and women have decided that it's OK to cheer, if you see Origin [domestic Rugby League competition] and the way it happened, and these games over the last few weeks.
"We're passionate as well about supporting our home state, it was a really awesome feeling when they carried on like that and I truly think they got us over the line with that little bit extra."
Never again can the Tahs be labelled chokers, pretty boys, or pretenders.
Cheika paid tribute to every member of his squad and his backroom staff but had a special word for experienced centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, who scored both of the team's tries.
"There's one word to describe that guy on and off the field and that's class," he said.
"He delivers every week, consistently."
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