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Manipulator, motivator: Michael Cheika can do it all

Larkham shows how it's done. Photo: Getty

Larkham shows how it's done. Photo: Getty

***The 2015 Rugby World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand will begin at 3am (AEDT) on Sunday. You can watch the match on GEM or Fox Sports before coming back to The New Daily for full post-match coverage.***

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They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. That first impressions can be deceiving.

You could say the same about Michael Cheika.

At first glance, he comes across as your typical former rugby player – weathered face and cauliflowered ears from packing down in too many scrums.

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He has a blokey demeanour and a voice that sounds like he has taken a few hits of helium.

But the man they know as ‘Cheik’ is no average former footy player who enjoys hitting other men or downing beers with his mates.

He is a successful businessman, powerful motivator, linguist and outstanding leader, all rolled into one.

Hailing from Sydney’s south, Cheika came through the ranks of the famous Randwick club that has produced so many of Australia’s great rugby players.

Matt Giteau crosses for a try. Photo: Getty

Matt Giteau crosses for a try. Photo: Getty

He never cracked the heights of some of his teammates, and never played for his country. But he was renowned as hard-working forward, a tough operator who never took a backward step.

The son of Lebanese migrants has carried that attitude into the coaching arena.

At the end of October last year, with the Wallabies in disarray, he was hired by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to steer the ship.

The national team was at a low ebb. The culture was all over the shop and results were woeful. Just 12 months out from a World Cup, it looked a very tough gig.

And that feeling didn’t change after his first four matches in charge.

Australia won just one of those – a last-gasp victory over Wales – with defeats to France, Ireland and England summing up the problems Cheika inherited.

But that tour taught Cheika plenty.

He got to know his players, spotted what needed to be fixed and then went about doing it.

In the Rugby Championship, he masterminded Australia’s first silverware – and our first win over the All Blacks in four years.

He convinced the ARU to change its selection policy, allowing him to bring back talented veterans Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell back into the fold, and he encouraged former Wallabies Dean Mumm and Kane Douglas to return to Australia to be part of his World Cup campaign.

Cheika’s wise moves didn’t end there.

He installed hooker Stephen Moore as captain. He brought in 1999 World Cup winner Stephen Larkham as backs coach. And he convinced Argentinian Mario Ledesma to become our scrum coach.

Larkham shows how it's done. Photo: Getty

Larkham shows how it’s done. Photo: Getty

And, most importantly, he got the Wallabies to believe in themselves again. To believe in each other. And to believe in his coaching methods.

Wallaby great Mark Ella calls Cheika a fighter.

“He took nothing for granted and always worked his backside off,” he said.

“He’s installed that philosophy into this current group of players that nothing comes easy and they’ve got to deserve their victory. These guys are playing for it.”

Former Australian captain Rocky Elsom, who played under him in Ireland, says Cheika is an excellent man-manager.

“You can’t really realise how important that is until you experience it,” he said.

At this World Cup, Cheika’s team has not only dazzled on the field, but the head coach has entertained off it.

His press conferences have been a mixture of jokes, mind games and serious statements.

During the group stage, Cheika played down his own experience, describing Warren Gatland as a “master coach” and himself as a novice.

After the Wallabies defeated Argentina in the semi-finals, he joked that winger Drew Mitchell, who had set up the team’s final try with a freakish run, “doesn’t know what he’s doing half the time”.

And in the build-up to Sunday morning’s final, Cheika broke a supposed ban on the term ‘All Blacks’ – but said it while making a choking gesture.

Cheika has become Australian rugby’s best ambassador in years.

He has lifted his team – and indeed the code – with his words and actions.

He has given the supporters hope and earned respect from across the sporting world.

There’s just one hurdle left to climb.

SEVEN ELEVEN STOCK

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