At his press conference overnight Cheika bravely uttered “All Blacks”, clutching his throat, grabbing at his chest and appearing to faint.
“Poltergeist!” he yelled after saying the two words, All Blacks, which had reportedly been banned from the Australian camp.
He’d been challenged by a journalist who referred to reports Cheika was under a directive from the ARU to address the defending World Cup holders only as “New Zealand” and never by their more intimidating moniker.
It was all part of demystifying the All Blacks aura, we were told.
“They can call us what they want. Being Aussies, they probably will,” joked New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, who is seeking to become the first coach to win back-to-back World Cups.
But there were no mind games, insisted the wily Cheika. This was just the work of an old-fashioned bloke trying to make his way on the international scene.
“If you notice, I never call Australia the Wallabies, either,” Cheika reasoned, shortly after regaining his composure.
“I’m really a bit old-fashioned in that way…I think Australia is Australia and New Zealand is New Zealand, and France is France and it’s a battle between nations on that stage.”
It was a rare moment of light-heartedness amidst a week of strained relations ahead of Saturday’s all-important final.
While Cheika and his team had been accused of refusing to use the All Blacks name, so too had their friends on the other side of the Tasman been momentarily forgetful about the names of several Wallabies stars.
New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster toed the line when discussing Australia’s much-vaunted back-row – refusing to name either vice-captain Michael Hooper or the outstanding David Pocock.
Devastating All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino went a step further, forgetting altogether who was starting in the Wallabies’ back-row – which has been pegged as the key to victory at Twickenham.
But on Thursday, it all changed as the coaches delved into the dispute.
Cynics might suggest it had all been a ploy by Cheika to take pressure off his players.
“For us it has sort of been business as usual to be honest,” Cheika said.
“I know it is a bigger fixture and the last game, I understand that totally. So we are trying to prepare and have more detail.
“I don’t think we are trying smoke and mirrors, I just think the way we have been going about our business every day has led to us having that habit. It has been a couple of months now. We are trying to take it in our stride.”
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