MICHAEL Cheika revealed he’s copped “hate mail” on his phone and email as Australian rugby has sunk deep into despair and negativity this year.
But after a career of facing uphill challenges, the Wallabies coach says he enjoys fighting through tough times and he wants his players to do likewise when they take on the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday.
Based on a 54-34 thumping last week and a 17-year drought in New Zealand, the Wallabies are at record-high odds to beat the Kiwis and avoid a 15th-straight Bledisloe Cup series loss.
The mood among Australian rugby fans right now — after a long hard year of Super Rugby rubbish, the Western Force’s acrimonious axing, legal battles and frustratingly bad form by the Wallabies — has rarely been darker.
Cheika is apparently only too aware of the raw emotions felt by the Australian rugby public. A few months after speaking with frustrated Wallabies fan Jack Quigley, who sprayed the Wallabies in a viral Facebook post, Cheika said his inbox and phone had been getting hit by angry fans as well.
“I have heard a lot of anger and stuff around from people who might be bitter about it or whatever,” Cheika said.
“I am not sure why you would be angry, because it’s your national team. You’d be disappointed, 100 per cent.
“I have certainly had some of my own hate mail to deal with. I am not sure how they get my email address but they happen to, or a phone number.
“But you have to roll with that stuff mate, you have to deal with it. And you say there’s only one way that can change. Nothing that happens from Monday to Friday. The only way these things change is on the field. That’s where we have to change them.
“The other stuff that is in the Union, that’s away from us. As Wallabies, we have to change that on the field and that’s the only place to do it.”
History would have to be made for Australia to overcome what many see as mission impossible at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The Wallabies have conceded 50 points four times and managed to win three times in their next Test, but never have they had to face the All Blacks a week after letting a half-century.
Cheika, who has spoken in the past about feeling like an outsider in rugby, said he relished the chance to make history and he pushed that theme to his platers this week on the training field.
“I know it's a tough situation and I am sure we have had a lot of stones thrown at us, and justifiably so in some areas,” Cheika said.
“But I love it in that space. That’s where I have lived most of my life, in that space. I want the players to enjoy it, enjoy being in that place and then get out of it and then stay hungry when you do.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity for us, and I am not just saying that because that’s the spin everyone likes to put on when you’re in that. This really is a huge opportunity for players to show who they really are.”
It might not look like it but Wallabies skills coach Mick Byrne said during the week the team was improving and on track in its rebuilding plans, just as he’d seen in the All Blacks a decade ago.
Cheika said, too, based on his coaching experience the Wallabies were tracking as expected.
“I have always been in turnaround teams, in these situations where the team has to get turned around or rebuilding a new team or whatever it is,” he said.
“I know the markers. That’s why at the end of the game last week when I said this is a different group of players, it is. I can see that.
“Now the important thing will be for them to turn it around, and when I say turn it around, just in some of the simple things in the game. Believe in themselves a bit more and go out there and get it.
“Players are talking it, and they’re staying resilient for the battle this week, but the transition is getting it on the field and performing.”
Cheika said the obvious improvements required would be in defence; both in making dominant tackles and subsequent cohesion in the line.
“More solid on D and just a little bit more, for even our own ball, around our ruck stuff, our attacking ruck-work, a bit more violent in that area.”