Cheika reaping rewards for faith in back-to-basics methods

Jack Quigley Columnist

By , Jack Quigley is a Roar Expert

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    The key to rugby success? It’s as simple as running up hills, apparently.

    Cast your minds back four months to June, the Wallabies have just lost to Scotland but it is the manner of the defeat which has Australian rugby fans at wits end. The performance was dire.

    A perfect storm of unforced errors, dropped balls and missed tackles. The Wallabies could barely kick a goal or win a lineout. The basic desire to win the 50-50 moments at the breakdown was seemingly absent.

    The fallout was well publicised. Fans voiced their dissatisfaction with the players, coach Michael Cheika and just about everyone else involved with the professional game right now.

    It seemed as though the Wallabies were broken, and it was going to take a hell of a lot of work to put them back together.

    At the time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak at length with Cheika about the situation we were in, and he was good enough to explain part of his plan to get us back to the top again.

    And it all started with running up hills.

    I suppose, when your team appears to be lacking in the basic fundamentals, it’s best to strip it back to basics, and there’s nothing more basic than making a footy team run hills.

    There’s more to it than fitness, Cheika explained. The fitness is a beneficial, of course. A tired player is more likely to lose concentration. When you are not concentrating you are more likely to drop a ball or miss a tackle.

    Cheika pointed to the Wallabies’ tackling and ball handling at the 2015 World Cup as an example. These were a lot of the same players, so they hadn’t lost the ability to catch, pass and tackle. They just weren’t anywhere near as fit as they were at the World Cup, when Cheika had enjoyed the luxury of an extended build up to prepare the side.

    Tatafu Polota-Nau

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    But what Cheika really loves about flogging the troops is what it creates within the players. The desire to push yourself to your limits and not quit, because you can see the guy next to you pushing himself and he’s refusing to quit.

    He explained how that builds respect for each other. How individually a player might not get to the top but damned if he’s going to give up while the guy next to him is somehow still going.

    In a age of analytics, the NSW Waratahs coaching staff – take from this what you will – stress the importance of the ‘NTR’ quality. NTR stands for ‘No Talent Required’. Basically, hard work. How willing a player is to just get up and keep going.

    Fast forward four months to October. The Wallabies have finished second in The Rugby Championship, losing only twice – to New Zealand, once by a lot, once by a whisker. And halfback Will Genia believes that the current Wallabies setup is the best he’s been involved in, at least culture-wise.

    Genia has been the latest Wallaby to identify the intense fitness sessions the players were subject to following the June internationals as key to the team’s growing confidence.

    Of course there is more to turning around a waning international rugby team in four months than grueling fitness sessions, but they embody the culture of hard work and respect that Cheika aims to build in this team.

    For the first time in a long time, Wallabies fans have cause for optimism heading into a game against New Zealand. While next Saturday’s match will be a dead rubber from a Bledisloe Cup perspective, a win would prove a landmark victory for Cheika.

    It would vindicate his back-to-basics methods and provide the perfect launchpad for the European assault to come in November.

    Jack Quigley
    Jack Quigley

    A long time sports writer and podcaster, Jack has spent the majority of his media career covering football and rugby. He recently joined The Roar on the back of penning a viral Facebook rant aimed at the Wallabies which attracted 60,000 likes and more than 6,000 shares. You can follow him on Twitter @Jack_Quigley.

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