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Roll on the 'Cheika & Jones' show

As soon as the Wallabies beat England in the pool stage of last season's World Cup, the first step in England not progressing in their own tournament, the return bout over three Tests on Australian soil this month became highly anticipated.

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And when the Rugby Football Union did the right thing by us and replaced Stuart Lancaster with former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones, tickets for the three-Test series practically sold themselves.Roll on the 'Cheika & Jones' show

But there's more to this series than just Eddie Jones. It just so happens that his Australian counterpart, Michael Cheika, is a former teammate at the famed Sydney club, Randwick, back in the mid-1980s.

Randwick around that time boasted names already revered worldwide: David Campese, the Ella brothers, Simon Poidevin, to name just a couple. But behind all those brilliant players sat a crafty and clever hooker named Jones, and a brash and abrasive young no.8 named Cheika.

"He was a good player to play with," Cheika told me about his former teammate, last month.  

"He was tough and he was cheeky as well, but he was a footballer. More than anything he could play footy.  

"You could stick him in at flyhalf – he may not have had the pace, but he knew the game and he was a proper footballer. He was a natural sports person, but a footballer most of all and I like that style of player for sure."

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The mutual admiration and recollection came from Jones when I spoke to him ahead of the series, too.

"Yeah, absolutely. We were great mates, we played together for probably three or four seasons – he's a bit younger than me – but enjoyed each other's company.

"I've enjoyed seeing what he's done with Australia; I think he's done an absolutely fantastic job, and I am so pleased for him that he's got the Australian side playing like an Australian side should."

Both men were coached in their playing days by legendary former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer, and both men to this day still champion aspects of that classic Randwick style in the way they coach, even though rugby as a game – and a game now twenty years into professionalism – has changed significantly since they played.

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Hard-running, physical forwards. Aggressive breakdown presence. Expansive, creative backs play. It's exactly how Cheika delivered a World Cup Final appearance with the Wallabies, a Super Rugby title with the Waratahs, and European success with Irish province Leinster.

"We played the game at pace; we tried to move the ball. They're all attributes that have stuck with us as coaches," Jones told me.

"Certainly, from my point of view, I've stuck with it my whole coaching career."

When I spoke with him, Jones suggested that the England attack was going to be the aspect of their game that would require the most work. Their set-piece seems to have regained some of its reputation lost quite spectacularly against the Wallabies during the RWC, and in former Wallabies great George Smith, Jones may just have found the best breakdown consultant in world rugby.

In Ben Te'o, Jones returns to Australia with something of an ace up his sleeve. The former Queensland State of Origin and South Sydney premiership-winning Rugby League back row forward switched codes at the same time – but with much less fanfare –  than Sam Burgess, and is now coming off two very good seasons in the centres for Leinster.

Via an English mother, an encouraging phone call from Jones, and an official transfer to Premiership club Worcester, Te'o is suddenly an England player, and all roads seem to be pointing toward a Brisbane homecoming and a Rugby Union Test debut.Roll on the 'Cheika & Jones' show

Cheika is at the first step of a rebuilding phase, including upwards of a dozen uncapped players in his first training squad of the year. Seven of them made the cut for the 33-man squad for the First Test, including towering Brumbies lock Rory Arnold, Queensland Reds scrumhalf Nick Frisby, Western Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty, and exciting Melbourne Rebels utility Reece Hodge.

But the injection of new players and new ideas to both sides is only part of the mystique around this series. The 'Cheika & Jones' show will roll around the country and create just as many headlines as the rugby itself. Both men will do their very best to downplay this, of course.

"At the end of the day when the whistle blows there will be 23 blokes out there from each team getting stuck into it, and the coaches will be relatively useless by that point and inconspicuous.  As much as there is a bit of fun to be had before the series – which is all good and part of it – we will be pretty irrelevant when the whistle blows," Cheika quite accurately explained.

But then England arrived on our shores last week, and Eddie Jones was held up in customs in Brisbane, diverted to the side area for the full bag search.

And just when you were starting to believe this series really would be all about the rugby, Eddie spoke.

"It's all orchestrated, mate" he told the local media waiting for him on arrival, immediately casting himself as the head villain in this rugby pantomime, in which his former Randwick teammate is supposedly conducting.

"You guys should know, you're part of it."

And so it begins. Three wonderful weeks of intrigue, skulduggery, and outright conspiracy playing out in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney. Oh, and some rugby, too.

It's the Cheika & Jones show. Australia v England is just the curtain-raiser.

By Brett McKay

@BMcSport

@rugby365com

* Brett McKay is an Australian rugby writer and commentator, who has sat through more Bledisloe Cup and World Cup Final losses than any human should have to endure, and is desperately hoping for a change of luck soon. For regular musings on rugby, sport, and all manner of life's trivialities, you'll find Brett on Twitter at @BMcSport

 

 

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