The Rugby Championship

The Rugby Championship: Cheika out to silence Hansen after verbal sparring

The verbal sparring between Australia coach Michael Cheika and New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen will soon give way to the main business of the Rugby Championship and the Wallabies boss is under pressure to deliver on the pitch.

A panel of boxing judges would likely award Hansen the early rounds in this simmering rivalry and only a knockout blow – victory in the three-match Bledisloe Cup series – will see Cheika come out on top.

His ego battered and bruised following a humiliating 3-0 home series defeat to Eddie Jones' England in June, Cheika has engaged in a fascinating war of words in the build-up to Saturday's big kick-off.

It was during the England series that this spat seemingly had its genesis, with Hansen accusing Cheika of being "bullied" by Jones, who repeatedly looked to land psychological blows on the Wallabies.

"Cheika's not come back, he's letting Eddie have a free rein – to the point where it actually seems like he's letting Eddie bully him in the media," Hansen, whose team swept Wales aside in a series whitewash of their own, said at the time.

Cheika took the bait, describing Hansen's comments as "shallow" and saying: "It's easy to kick blokes when they're down. We're down, but we'll be getting back up, don't worry about that."

Hansen, having prompted Cheika to look like a man feeling the pressure, pleaded innocence when questioned on the exchange after he arrived in Australia for this weekend's match at ANZ Stadium.

"I’m not playing any mind games, I just answered a question I got asked about how I thought the series was going," Hansen insisted. "I think the Australian coach got a little bit upset with it.

"I left that behind a long time ago, I'm moving on to what we've got to do, he can hang onto it if he wants to.

"I've left it behind, I've moved on, if he wants to stay there good on him."

And following comments from Cheika regarding his opposite number's selection headaches, Hansen unleashed another barb, quipping: "It's good of the Australian coach to start picking our team, I'd say he's got enough problems of his own.

"We'll pick ours, he can pick his. He'll have a lot to say, no doubt."

The Wallabies have benefited from more time to prepare for their tournament opener – a fact Hansen was quick to suggest was due to Australia's under-representation in the latter stages of the Super Rugby season.

And while Australia are the defending Rugby Championship holders, they have not lifted the Bledisloe Cup since 2002, winning just three of their last 26 meetings with the All Blacks.

With New Zealand enjoying home advantage for two of this year's three Bledisloe matches, that record appears unlikely to change, but Cheika has rarely been more motivated to silence Hansen.