The Wallabies have a smile back on their faces and coach Michael Cheika regards that as one of his achievements since he took over the job in October last year.
Inconsistent results were bad enough but things reached their lowest ebb last year when ‘bad boy’ utility back Kurtley Beale was suspended over lewd texts he sent to team official Di Patston.
These indirectly led to a split in the dressing-room with some players supporting Beale and others Patston.
The controversy ended with then coach Ewen McKenzie resigning and Cheika being drafted in at short notice just before Australia set off on a tour of Europe.
The 48-year-old Cheika – the only coach to have won the major northern and southern hemisphere club trophies, with Leinster and the NSW Waratahs claiming the
European Cup and the Super 15 titles – is hoping this new rediscovered sense of enjoyment will carry over into a successful World Cup campaign.
“As a coach you make a long-term plan of where you want to be, but you’ve also got to knock off the short-term goals to get the side up and enjoying it as well,” said Cheika, whose side are in Group A alongside England, Wales, Fiji and Uruguay. “That’s a big thing.
“The smile had gone off a lot of the faces of the people involved on both sides of the paddock, inside and outside.”
Cheika, who has been in charge for just nine Tests since replacing McKenzie, said his first task was to get both players and spectators enthused by the brand of rugby being played by the Wallabies.
“Number one was to enjoy our work again and get people enjoying watching the rugby again,” said Cheika who is Australia’s third coach since the 2011 World Cup.
“When that happens, you’re more likely to do something with better quality.”
Cheika, who began his coaching career in Italy with Padova in 1999-2000, said that training had been hard as the Wallabies bid for a record third World Cup, with their two global titles both won on British soil, in England in 1991 and Wales in 1999.
“Sometimes they (the players) want to rip your head off, but all in all we’ve kept ourselves having a good time,” he said.
“It’s all part of it and you have to keep yourselves in the true perspective of what you’re doing.”
Fiji have prepared for the atmosphere at Twickenham in Friday’s World Cup opener by training to the sound of England fans in full voice.
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The islanders enter the Pool A showdown intent on causing a seismic upset, knowing the eyes of the rugby world will be upon them and coach John McKee has taken every step in ensuring his players will be ready for the occasion.
“We had a little bit of a strategy earlier in the campaign in Fiji – we had a PA system playing crowd noise and the sounds from Twickenham,” McKee said.
“That was part of our preparation. It was the normal crowd noise from Twickenham that was taken off some of the footage.
“It was good in those sessions we did it, it affected the intensity of the training. It’s hard to hear calls and the communication in the game.”
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Fiji will wear their traditional white strip and occupy the home dressing room at Twickenham, forcing England to switch to their red change kit and fill the role of away team. The allocations were made following a coin toss between the managers last year.
“There probably was a time that it would have made a big difference but now in this era it doesn’t matter,” McKee said.
“It’s interesting for us that we’ll be in the England changing room, although it probably won’t look like the England changing room on Friday night.”
McKee insists Fiji, who have spent an unprecedented two and a half months together in their summer training camp, are fuelled by the belief held outside the camp that they are capable of springing only one upset in Pool A.
“It would be a big story to tell if we beat England, but this pool’s not just about one game on Friday, all the games are important,” McKee said.
“The players are aware of the perception that we have only one big result to deliver and it’s a motivator for them.
“I believe we do have an advantage over a lot of our opposition in that our players are really proud to represent their country.
“They’re not coming back to Fiji and representing Fiji for monetary gain because it would be a lot easier to stay at their clubs and represent their professional clubs.
“We work on team building and team unity, but I think it comes for us a lot more naturally than perhaps it does for a lot of other teams.”
Philippe Saint-Andre and his France squad attended a welcome ceremony in Greenwich on ahead of the start of the Rugby World Cup.