Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and newly appointed Argentina boss Mario Ledesma share a family-like bond, which is why there won’t be any “mind games” this week heading into Saturday’s clash on the Gold Coast.
Cheika was the man who took a punt on Ledesma, bringing the former Pumas hooker to the Waratahs before appointing him as Wallabies forwards coach for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Ledesma’s impact was profound, with Australia’s shaky scrum stabilised so much that it became a weapon for them during rugby’s centrepiece event.
After three years with the national side, Ledesma announced at the conclusion of last year’s Test against Argentina in Mendoza he had taken an offer to coach the Jaguares in Super Rugby.
At the time, Cheika said he could not begrudge Ledesma for chasing his dream of becoming a head coach and this Saturday will mark the first time the pair have gone head to head in the coaching stakes.
Ledesma has more inside knowledge about this Wallabies team than any coach in world rugby and there is no doubt he will be looking to use it to his side’s advantage at Cbus Super Stadium.
Speaking at a Wallabies fan day on Sunday at Bond University after Australia’s 23-18 victory over South Africa, Cheika said there would be a different but special feel about the week ahead.
“Once the whistle blows it’ll be war but it’s respect before then because I think we’re too close,” Cheika said. “You come up against guys you know in different times and there’s always a bit of hedging and a bit of mind games but not this week. We’re too close. We’re as good as family.
“It’ll be tough, not in a bad way, tough in a good way because we’re friendly and it’ll be a unique situation for me because I really haven’t had that before.
“I’m sure we will catch up during the week and I’ve got some mail for him, it’s stacking up at my place, I need to give that to him."
Under Ledesma’s tutelage this year, the Jaguares had their best Super Rugby season to date. They chalked up nine wins from 16 regular season games before going down 40-23 to the Lions in the quarter-finals.
From three Rugby Championship matches, the Pumas sit third on the Rugby Championship ladder with one win and two losses, while the Wallabies are equal on points but have a worse for and against (-48).
Argentina knocked off the Springboks 32-19 in Mendoza and trailed by only eight points after 73 minutes on Saturday against the All Blacks before eventually falling 46-24.
“He’s done a good job this year with everything that has happened for him both with the Jaguares and the Pumas in the small amount of time he’s had them," Cheika said.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching his teams play since he’s taken over and I’m looking forward to going up against each other because it’s a bit like brothers going at it with each other. His coaching has been heavily influenced by his experiences here in Australia. Now we see him coaching in his own right and I’m very proud of him.”
Israel Folau (ankle) and David Pocock (neck) will be monitored throughout the week but the pair look likely to resume their positions in the Wallabies starting XV. Cheika said Taniela Tupou’s sore neck did not seem to be too problematic.
Meanwhile, Adam Coleman is now the proud father of a baby girl after his partner gave birth on Sunday. There is no timeline on when Coleman will rejoin his teammates on the Gold Coast after pulling out of the Springboks match at late notice.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak to him but I imagine he’s got better things to do than speak to me right now,” Cheika said. “The real world starts now. It’s totally up to him [when he comes back].”
After snapping a four-game losing streak with a gritty win over South Africa, Cheika said there was still plenty of areas the Wallabies could get better in.
"Our ball security was ok last night [but] I think that’s an area we need to improve again without a doubt," Cheika said. "We must continue our curve around the work-ethic in the game."