Cheika breaks silence over Hansen's 'Mickey Mouse' jibe
REACTION: Wallabies coach Michael Cheika shrugged off being called “Mickey Mouse” by All Blacks opposite number Steve Hansen, insisting on Thursday it didn’t bother him as the heat was turned up ahead of their blockbuster Bledisloe Cup clash in Perth.
Hansen reportedly made the mocking jibe at a Wellington charity event in February, also claiming the Australian was vulnerable to mind games because he had trouble controlling his emotions.
Asked about the barb when unveiling his team for Saturday’s match, Cheika said it was “no drama for me”, but added that he believed in keeping the game respectful.
“Respect is an important thing in footy. It’s the nature of the game, you rip into each other and then you socialise after,” he told reporters.
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Hansen made the remarks after being questioned about Australian great Mark Ella’s 2016 claim that “Mickey Mouse could coach the All Blacks to victory” given the quality of New Zealand’s players.
“They’ve got Mickey Mouse coaching Aussie,” he reportedly replied at a charity function, adding that it was possible to distract Cheika by using niggling ploys like refusing to use his name before matches.
In a bid to defuse the situation on Thursday, Hansen denied directly labelling Cheika as the Disney character.
“I never said he was Mickey Mouse,” he said, according to New Zealand media.
“What I said was in a throwaway line… So you can make a big thing out of it if you want, or you can take it for what it was. Something in jest.”
Nothing would please Cheika more than beating the All Blacks on Saturday in the historic Bledisloe Cup clash which doubles as a Rugby Championship game – the first ever Test between the two countries in Perth.
He named one-time Australian bad boy James O’Connor to begin the match, completing his return from exile.
It will be the utility back’s first start since 2013, when the Wallabies tore up his contact after he was prevented from boarding a flight from Perth to Bali for being drunk.
That was the latest in a series of indiscretions by O’Connor, including his arrest in a Paris drug bust.
He earned partial redemption two weeks ago when named in the replacements for their Test against Argentina, and has now been included in the first XV at outside centre.
“I think James will bring something a little bit different that we haven’t seen, so definitely our opponents won’t have seen it either,” said Cheika.
But there will be no return for top-rated flanker David Pocock, despite his call-up to the Wallabies training squad after a run of injuries.
O’Connor’s comeback is one of four changes to Cheika’s starting line-up.
Prop Allan Alaalatoa returns to the Test arena for the first time this year and will be joined in the front-row by hooker Tolu Latu, while Nic White partners Christian Lealiifano in the halves.