Coach Michael Cheika insists that the recent attack on a Wallabies player ‘could have happened in any city’ and that the team is in a positive space ahead of the clash with the Springboks. JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg reports.
Last Saturday, Taniela Tupou was attacked while walking back to the team hotel after a dinner with teammates. The Wallabies prop attempted to chase down the criminal who had stolen his phone, and was subsequently stabbed in the arm.
The Wallabies came out on Sunday to assure all and sundry that Tupou’s injuries were not serious. The prop has since been named on the bench for the game against the Boks on Saturday.
On Thursday, a media conference was held at the team hotel, not far from where the attack took place. Some have described the incident as a bad advertisement for South Africa. Cheika and the Wallabies, however, feel differently.
‘We love South Africa. What happened [last weekend] could happen anywhere in any city. So it needs to be viewed in context. It’s not a big deal really,’ the Wallabies coach said.
‘We’ve been treated with the utmost respect since we’ve been here. The South Africans love their rugby and they are a very welcoming people. We had a fantastic time at Sun City last week and the buildup [in Johannesburg] this week has been good.
‘We don’t want to let one small thing take anything away from the experience,’ he added. ‘It’s important for us to make this point. We’ve enjoyed our time here and we plan to enjoy the atmosphere at the game on Saturday.’
Cheika and players who fronted the media on Thursday appeared to be in a relaxed mood. They are well aware of the Wallabies’ poor record on the highveld, though, as well as the hostile reception they will receive at Ellis Park this Saturday.
Cheika feels that the challenge should be embraced. Like opposite number Rassie Erasmus, Cheika is building a squad for the World Cup and believes that a game staged well outside the players’ comfort zone will provide him with answers regarding their abilities under pressure.
‘We haven’t been to Ellis Park in 11 years. I’ve only coached one game there as Waratahs coach.
‘That’s what I enjoy, though, to be in the cauldron of the opposition. It’s motivating for us.
‘What else could you ask for in terms of an intimidating atmosphere? It’s a good challenge and we must stand up. This is what rugby is about.’
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