Claiming former NSW coach Michael Foley had the “advantage” of inside knowledge, Waratahs counterpart Michael Cheika pulled out his own ace ahead of Sunday’s Super Rugby derby with the Western Force.
To combat Foley, Cheika called in a favour from rugby league legend and good friend Brad Fittler on Tuesday.
Fittler was a surprise starter at NSW training in Sydney and certainly didn’t hold back, taking full reins as he ran the backline, even scoring a try at one point, as the Waratahs soaked up the skills and wisdom of one of Australia’s greatest rugby league five-eighths.
Back at a ground on which he knows every blade of grass after a decade at the Sydney Roosters, Fittler worked particularly closely with Waratahs five-eighth Bernard Foley – during and after the extended 90-minute session.
A long-time friend of Fittler’s, Cheika said inviting the former Test and State of Origin star was worthwhile “all day, every day”.
“It goes without saying all the guys will listen to him,” the Tahs coach said.
“Just for something different, but already you can also see he has added something to our game.
“Hopefully he’ll be able to sneak a few bits into the game on the weekend as well.”
Cheika acknowledged the different skill sets in rugby league and union.
“But you can’t deny the skills that he brings to the game,” he said.
“It’s obviously a big bonus for us to have him down here. You only had to see how much they were listening. He was pretty much replicating shapes he was looking to get them to play.
“He was really good.”
Fittler even spent time working with front-rowers Benn Robinson and John Ulugia.
“Passing is the same for props and flankers as it is for five-eighths,” Cheika said.
“Passing is passing and that’s a big thing our guys have been working on this year – our tight-five players in particular – and I think they’re getting better at it, being able to play with the ball.”
Saying the Waratahs “look strong”, Fittler offered “just little tips we’ve got here in league that we’ve learnt over a long time”.
“The games obviously have their differences,” he said.
“They’ve got to get in the rucks and mauls and stuff like that – but just some things that we do, they’re all basic, very basic.”
The match will be the first meeting between the two sides since Foley resigned from NSW last year to join the Force, a move that opened the door for Cheika to join the Waratahs.
Cheika insisted the head-to-head coaching battle was “irrelevant”, but admitted Foley’s inside knowledge “gives him a definite advantage, yes”.
“I’m sure he’ll be using that in preparation for the game,” he said.
“(But) there’s no such thing as a coaching match-up. Players play the game – the coach just sits in there and stresses.”
Cheika said he expected halfback Brendan McKibbin to recover from his shoulder injury in time to tackle the Force and that Wallabies hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau would also be available for selection after being sidelined for two weeks.