Wallabies brace for Ledesma’s rebuilding Pumas
MICHAEL Cheika would normally expect to have his buttons pushed ahead of a clash against a team coached by one of his former assistants - but not this week.
Not when the Wallabies mentor considers his long-time forwards coach Mario Ledesma, now in charge of Argentina, "as good as family".
Cheika and Ledesma will go head-to-head for the first time in Saturday night's Rugby Championship Test on the Gold Coast, having spent so much of their coaching careers by each other's side.
Ledesma first linked with Cheika as his forwards coach at Stade Francais in 2011, and reunited with him at the NSW Waratahs four years later where he served as a set-piece consultant in the season they won Super Rugby.
When Cheika was promoted to the Wallabies ahead of the 2015 World Cup, he predictably brought Ledesma with him.
The two worked wonders together again, this time at Test level.
"Without a doubt he's been a very, very important part of the development of this team," Cheika told reporters on Sunday.
But their partnership was broken up late last year when Ledesma left the Australian set-up to return to South America and coach the Jaguares, guiding them to the Super Rugby finals for the first time in their history.
His success made him the sensible option to take over Los Pumas when Daniel Hourcade quit as coach of the national team in June.
Ledesma seems to be making his mark already, having guided Argentina to a win over South Africa in Mendoza before troubling the might of New Zealand for an hour on Saturday night.
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They shape as a tough assignment for the Wallabies, who remain bottom of the Rugby Championship table despite their gutsy 23-18 win over the Springboks.
Ledesma will have plenty of intel on the team - and on Cheika, too.
Not that he's worried.
"You come up against guys you know at different times and there's always a bit of hedging and mind games and everything like that," Cheika said.
"But not this week. We're too close.
"We're as good as family, so respect - he's done a great job this year with everything that's happened.
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"You can see it in their game and with the Pumas, in the small amount of time he's had them, he's really delivered.
"His coaching's been heavily influenced by his experience here in Australia and now we see him coaching in his own right, and very proud of him.
"Once the whistle blows it'll be war but it's respect before then."