Juggling Lebanon and Argentina – Michael Cheika’s unique preparation for the England test

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Michael Cheika took the Argentina job after the departure of Mario Ledesma

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If you were to compare Michael Cheika and Eddie Jones’ preparation ahead of this weekend’s Autumn Nations Series clash between England and Argentina, you’d have to say they were quite different.

Eddie Jones was able to concentrate fully on England’s goal of beating Cougars at Twickenham Stadium, while Michael Cheika also prepared Lebanon for a Rugby World Cup tie with his native Australia.

It was a tumultuous time for the 55-year-old, whose players chased and caught a thief in Manchester after catching the attacker trying to break into their hotel. Cheika joked the day after that his team was now “part-time security”, with the Aussie even having his own laptop stolen in a separate burglary.

Due to his commitments, Cheika undoubtedly relied heavily on his assistant coaches as Argentina prepared to face England. Already this week he traveled from London to Leeds on Monday, returned to London on Tuesday to help prepare Argentina, before heading back up north to prepare for Friday night’s game at the John Smiths Stadium in Huddersfield.

Losing the quarter-final 48-4, before the match, Cheika was happy with how the preparations for each of his teams had gone.

“Everything has been great,” he said. “Overall, it’s become a bit easier than I thought. The journey in between, the messaging in between. We did a lot of preparatory work with Argentina. It didn’t been as stressful as it could have been, it was pretty smooth.

Born to Lebanese immigrants in Sydney, Cheika’s appointment as Cedars head coach came ahead of the postponement of the Rugby World Cup last year. Expressing great pride in being able to represent his legacy at the highest level and succeeding in the process.

It wasn’t his first experience coaching the 13-man code after helping the Sydney Roosters as an adviser in 2020 and after revealing his interest in coaching the NRL in the future, the greats of the league Greg Alexander and Corey Parker both supported the 55-aged.

It’s lazy to suggest that Cheika and Jones know each other just because they’re Australian. In reality, they are both products of Randwick DRUFC in Sydney and called each other teammates for several years before going their separate ways.

In the media, the two have often clashed, but underlying it all there is a clear mutual respect for each other that goes beyond just rugby. Such is their bond, Cheika even hosted Jones in the Lebanon camp several weeks ago.

“I invited him to Cedars practice,” Cheika said. “He couldn’t come to training, but he came to sit with our coaches, we all had a sit-down breakfast one morning and shared some ideas.

“He loves the league. I guess I do. He followed this tournament quite closely, I received lots of good advice. But this week will be a little different.

“I’m always looking forward to going up against one of the great coaches, and also a good mate. It’s always a good fight, but it will be a bit different this time doing it with Argentina as opposed to Australia. Definitely a different feeling for me on that.

“And he will be the same. As soon as the game arrives, all bets are off if you know what I mean. You try to do your best.

“It’s just different. I feel very, very good with these guys. It’s still a huge challenge.

Take the cougars job earlier this year following the departure of Mario Ledesma as head coach, it was Cheika’s first international role since leaving the Wallabies in 2019. His time with Argentina has certainly been fruitful so far .

Picking up a series win against Scotland at home in July, he led the team to victory over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil. Only getting the role after the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with Felipe Contepomi taking over once the tournament is over.

Joining his Argentina side on Saturday morning ahead of England’s challenge, the former Wallabies manager considers the match important for a variety of reasons.

“It obviously has different implications for different reasons,” he said. “We’re going to be World Cup competitors in less than a year, but that’s for later.

“For us, in the curve that we’ve been trying to build ourselves since July, it’s about changing the way we prepare for our rugby, changing the way we play our game a bit.

“Trying to create firsts – winning at Twickenham would be one of many firsts for our players. We know these are big ambitions, but we need to focus more on our own personal scoreboard as a team.

“I’ve been to Twickenham many times and you can get lost there if you’re not really focused on what’s important to your team and get carried away with the emotion of the game, big crowds, all those types of things that come with playing England at Twickenham.

“We picked four or five things that are very important to us as a team this week and if we can excel in those.

“Then, as always in rugby, let the cards fall where they do in terms of the scoreboard. If you do those things right, therefore, you will be in the game.

Argentinian starting XV: Juan Cruz Mallia; Mateo Carreras, Matias Moroni, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli; Santiago Carreras, Gonzalo Bertranou; Thomas Gallo, Julian Montoya (captain), Francisco Gomez Kodela, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lavanini, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera

Replacements: Ignacio Ruiz, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Eduardo Bello, Lucas Paulos, Facundo Isa, Eliseo Morales, Tomas Albornoz, Matias Orlando

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