Michael Cheika and Alan Jones stood side-by-side on Friday and poured cold water on a “fake war” between the pair, instead throwing light-hearted banter at one another a fortnight before their respective teams – the Wallabies and Barbarians – lock horns in a mouth-watering clash at Allianz Stadium.
Jones has named seven Wallaby representatives and former Waratahs second-rower Jacques Potgieter in his Barbarians side to take on Cheika’s n team in Sydney.
However, the former Wallabies coach, who led to grand slam glory in 1984, said Cheika had poached his fair share of players in the process.
“It’s un-n,” Jones joked. “Five times he’s done it and he introduced this argument last week that he didn’t know anything about Quade Cooper and I knew it was tongue-in-cheek. We lost both our centres.
“One of the great weaknesses of the match from Michael’s point of view is there are several players who played for him that wanted to play for us. That’s likely to affect their performance don’t you think?”
Billy Meakes, the Western Force centre, was one of those players but when pressed on which other n stars he snaffled from Jones’ possession, Cheika remained tight-lipped.
“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” Cheika said. “They’re playing on our contracts so we’ll keep as many as we can. We want as many of our n players on show.”
Overall, 17 of the 24 players Jones has named are n-based, with seven coming from the Western Force.
Jones is still waiting to confirm the availabilities of some South African players, pending results in the Currie Cup, before the side begins its two-game campaign starting on October 24 in Lismore as preparation for the Saturday match at Allianz Stadium.
Between them, Cooper, Matt Hodgson, Pek Cowan, Sam Carter, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Eto Nabuli and Luke Jones have chalked up 107 Wallabies Tests.
“You play to win and we will be playing to win, there is no mistake about that,” Jones said. “We have an obligation to the players when we’re bringing them from all over the world to make sure that they understand we’re fair dinkum.
“There has been a bit of a tradition where the Barbarians is a bit of a holiday and there’s plenty to drink and so on. That would be doing a disservice to the tradition of the Barbarians and also to the people who are coming through the turnstiles. We don’t want any Nick Kyrgioses playing for us here.”
While there is plenty of motivation for Cheika to win, the reality is that starting next weekend against the All Blacks, the Wallabies have a run of six games in six weeks and there will be a degree of rotation for the Barbarians match.
“We’ll definitely look at giving opportunities to some of the players who haven’t started matches,” Cheika said. “I’m not in any way looking to go to a second team or anything like that but there will certainly be guys with high loads that will be rested.
“With some of our fringe players playing for the Barbarians, and us holding off selection of the [spring tour] squad until the Sunday, this is a great opportunity for guys to make their case for selection going forward.”
The pair, who speak regularly behind the scenes, played down a “fake war” but have upped the ante by throwing a number of barbs each other’s way.
Asked whether he had any future coaching ambitions, Jones said: “I’m a candidate if Cheika keeps on failing like this” before adding “I’m loyal to the boy.”
Cheika added: “I think I’ve seen his CV come across for an assistant coach’s job at one stage.”
He also responded to a question about whether he had any mind games in store.
“I’ll get smashed by Alan anyway, he’s got a national platform to mindgame on a daily basis, so I’ll never win that battle.
“One thing about Alan is he’s very passionate about the game. The fact he’s taken up the opportunity to get back in the tracksuit for this game shows how much he wants rugby to be successful.”
As outspoken as Jones has been this year about the n Rugby Union, he was only full of praise for the Wallabies and is hoping a big crowd will show up for an entertaining afternoon game of running rugby.
“This n team is definitely better than they are given credit for,” Jones said. “They’ve got some of the finest athletes in . We packed the joint out [with] 45,000 for the Socceroos, we got 100,000 for the AFL, we get a full ground for the NRL, there’s a chance to get behind this and I think they deserve that.”
Barbarians 24-man squad: Anaru Rangi, Andrew Ready, Augustine Pulu, Chance Peni, Eto Nabuli, George Moala, Isi Naisarani, Jacques Potgieter, Kane Koteka, Luke Jones, Matt Hodgson, Matt Philip, Michael Ruru, Pek Cowan, Quade Cooper, Richard Arnold, Sam Carter, Sam Greene, Sam Ward, Taniela Tupou, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Theo Strang, Tim Nanai-Williams, Tom Banks.