Michael Cheika has acclaimed the politically-diverse blend of “jokers, lovers and fighters” who have swept Australia to a fourth World Cup final.
The Wallabies will face New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday with the winners recognised as the most successful nation in the competition’s history having each triumphed on two previous occasions.
Twelve months ago Cheika inherited a squad in turmoil after a rift had opened up between players and management. Now Australia are on the brink of wrestling All Blacks hands from the Webb Ellis Cup.
Allowing personalities of all types to flourish has been instrumental in the revival with outstanding back row David Pocock – a non-conformist, climate change activist and gay rights supporter – as interesting off the pitch as he is influential on it.
And Cheika insists the Wallabies also draw strength from their global roots with lineages in countries as varied as Zimbabwe, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji and Lebanon.
“We have got a team of real diversity. People who have come from different lands and origins, and there are also some very different characters there,” Cheika said.
“I won’t say we’ve got anyone on the extreme right in the way we think, but we’ve got the extreme left and centre right. We’ve got the jokers, the lovers, the fighters.
“One of the big things for us has been growing up off the field. I really like to have lots of different characters in teams, people who think differently about everything.”
Captain Stephen Moore is reluctant to be drawn on the identity of the “lovers”, but offers turnover specialist Pocock and Drew Mitchell and as two of the bigger personalities in the camp.
Pocock was arrested but not convicted last November after chaining himself to a super-digger outside a coal mine in a display for solidarity with a farmer, while during this World Cup he has emerged as the sport’s most valuable player.
Mitchell, who was superb in the 29-15 victory over Argentina in Sunday’s semi-final, saw his international exile ended when Cheika demanded he be allowed to select players based in France, forcing the Australian Rugby Union to reverse a long-standing policy.
“Sometimes there is a tendency to want everyone to do the same thing, but Cheika has been very good at allowing us to express ourselves in different ways,” Moore said.
“Dave’s a quality person who adds a lot to our team away from the field. Some guys are cutting around on Segways after a game, but he’ll watching David Attenborough documentaries.
“We have a lot of different characters. Drew Mitchell is a guy who probably didn’t think he’d be involved in this team and he brings a huge amount to the squad. He’s always joking and looking at the lighter side of things and I think that really balances everyone out.
“There are guys who are pretty serious, me being one of those, and then people like David, who are really different.
“We have different guys who bring different things from all different areas and that’s what makes this team environment special. We don’t have any rules around the place, we’ve just got common sense.”
Cheika gave a positive injury update on Pocock (calf), Israel Folau (ankle), Scott Sio (elbow) and Matt Giteau (groin) for Saturday’s final, but will wait for today’s training session before making a more thorough assessment.
Meanwhile, New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster rejected the need to mark the end of an era for superstars like Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith and Keven Mealamu, all of whom will make emotional last appearances. “I don’t think we need to spend much time on it at all,” said Foster. “It’s a Rugby World Cup final. We’ve talked about this particular game for a long, long time.
“We’ve wanted to be here, we’ve worked hard to be here, for all the team whether they’re moving on or not, it’s all about the here and now.
“There will be plenty of time to talk about the future after the game.”