The Cheika secret behind new-found Wallabies resolve
LIKE the Japanese waving cat sitting behind Michael Cheika in the coaches box, the Wallabies showed us something new on Saturday night in Brisbane.
They showed us an ability to suck up a bad call and still bring home a win.
The Wallabies' victory over the world No. 2 Irish should not be underestimated.
Ireland are not only Six Nations champions, they'd won 12 games on the bounce and many players had won the European Cup with Leinster only weeks earlier.
Joe Schmidt's men were settled, confident and armed with a proven game plan.
And the Wallabies prevailed. In the back half.
This from a team that has, in recent memory, started in June slower than a diesel truck on a freezing morning.
Many elements impressed: David Pocock; the 90 per cent, zero-try-conceded defence; the reserves' bench impact; Taniela Tupou's cameo. The fitness.
But the new thing that stood out on this night was the Wallabies' composure after a dud refereeing call.
The overrule on Israel Folau's try in the 60th minute was a potential tipping point.
It was, under World Rugby laws, technically correct to ping Adam Coleman for tackling a player without the ball, a full minute before the try.
It was also an example of a referee without the confidence to make a call it plainly as being neither dangerous nor influential. Instead it was the safety of box ticking and the approval of refereeing bureaucy.
The Wallabies have had more than their share of dud calls in recent years: Henry Speight's no-try in Auckland; the cluster of poor calls at Twickenham last year; Stephen Moore's no-try in Wellington a few years back.
Those moments have tended to derail the Wallabies, who drop away alarmingly when the game is still there to be won.
After Speight's no-try, the score was still 15-10 with 33 minutes remaining. They lost 37-10.
The Wallabies only trailed 13-6 in England and conceded 17 more points in the last 11 minutes. And so on.
On Saturday against Ireland, that didn't happen.
Between the 60th and 70th minutes, the Wallabies played some of the smartest footy they've played in years.
They kicked out high from their quarter, won back possession, and played tight into Ireland's quarter. A go-ahead penalty goal followed after a tight-head.
Next sequence was the same: kick high, Folau won the contest and Genia kicked deep a second time. This time the Wallabies won a penalty and tapped, and several phases later scored. Game over.
The tap call was "Ballsy" but "Brainy" would have been better. It was as smart as Australia have played for a long time, and coming after a dud call, with a history of was all the more welcome.
But what about that cat? It's called a Maneki-Neko and is a good-luck charm. It's apparently been in the Wallabies coaches box for over a year but on Saturday was put into sight for the first time.
Asked about it, Cheika said: "The coaching staff usually go out for a Chinese feed during the week somewhere and there's always these Maneki-Neko, so we have a little collection of them. We are not superstitious in any way but it's just a little mate in the box."
That's a cover story if ever you've heard one. How about this for a theory?
That cat isn't actually waving. Most people apparently make that mistake.
It is actually beckoning - as in, bring it on - and it never stops.