Paris flop motivating Cheika to make successful return

AUSTRALIA COACH Michael Cheika admitted he had a score to settle with the French capital ahead of his side’s one-off Test match against France tomorrow.

The Wallabies coach, who was only appointed to the role three weeks ago when Ewan McKenzie resigned, used to be in charge of Stade Francais, who are based in Paris.

It was the one blip on an otherwise hugely successful coaching career that saw him win the European Cup and Celtic League with Leinster and land the Super XV title with the New South Wales Waratahs — where he remains head coach alongside his national team duties — earlier this year.

But his two-year stay with Stade Francais saw the then troubled Parisians fail to qualify for the European Cup, finishing 11th and seventh, and lose the 2011 European Challenge Cup final to Harlequins, 19-18.

There were mitigating circumstances as Stade were in turmoil and on the brink of financial collapse during his reign, only being saved in the 2011 off season when Thomas Savare bought out Max Guazzini.

But Cheika and Savare did not see eye-to-eye and the Australian headed home a year later, fired.

Now he admits that he would take satisfaction from gaining a victory on Parisian soil, although he insists revenge is not on his mind.

“For sure, you’d be lying if you said otherwise having played and coached here,” said Cheika.

“It’s always a good bit of niggle when you’ve been somewhere and then you come back and go against them.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be good for me here and in Ireland where I spent big parts of my life.

“Normally the Stade de France is the home ground for Stade Francais… for three or four games a year, so it’s going to be a different feeling this year.

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“I don’t think there are going to be many people cheering for us but it’s just a matter of adapting to that, being in the cauldron, and enjoying it.”

Cheika doesn’t have any hard feelings, though, and is pragmatic when he looks back at his time in the French capital.

“It’s not like Ireland or Australia where the federation manages the teams. In France, when someone puts money from his own pocket, which he’s worked hard for, he has the right to do as he likes.”

He said he was still friends with current Stade coach, Gonzalo Quesada.

“Many players that I recruited are still there so I’d be the first to wish them to qualify for the play-offs and win the title. Someone who feels like taking revenge doesn’t understand life.”

Cheika, though, admitted that he had difficulties with some people within the Stade camp during his tenure.

“There was a change in method, a method more Anglo-Saxon and maybe that was a mistake,” he admitted. ”But that was my method and if the players weren’t happy, they could always come to me to talk about it. But they went above my head and the management link was broken.”

Cheika still believes the experience was a positive one.

“Controlling a situation that is beyond your control was a very enriching experience. We were training despite not being sure we’d still be in the Top 14 the next season (due to going bust).

“It’s probably the only time in my career where I really felt the pressure because it had consequences on people’s lives.”

– © AFP, 2014

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