Australia's Cheika says Ireland toughest challenge on rugby tour

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Australia's Cheika says Ireland toughest challenge on rugby tour

Dublin (AFP) - Australia will face the sternest of challenges against Ireland next Saturday as they bid to maintain their quest to emulate the 1984 Wallabies and achieve a Grand Slam over the Home Nations, said coach Michael Cheika.

The 49-year-old -- who picked up a demoralised Australian side and within a year guided them to the 2015 World Cup final -- has overseen victories over two of the Home Nations, Wales and Scotland, as well as France.

However, he admitted Monday two fine performances by the Irish against world champions New Zealand suggested his team were in for a tough day at the office.

Ireland registered a first-ever victory over the All Blacks in Chicago followed by a close run 21-9 defeat on Saturday.

"I haven't actually seen the games yet," said Cheika. "It's not my job to but the other coaches have. I've been doing my part of the job, which is to concentrate on our team.

"I have watched the highlights and from the look of those they were good encounters and we have our work cut out for us as they got closer to the All Blacks in those two games than we did in the three we played against New Zealand.

Cheika, who expected second choice mercurial fly-half Quade Cooper to return to training on Monday, said he had instilled in the less experienced players in the squad the difficulty of the task facing them.

"We've got new lads and I've told them how difficult it is to win over here in the Northen Hemisphere," said Cheika.

"Their sides are buoyed by their crowds and it is a real challenge for all the Southern Hemisphere sides.

"We've all had tough games and looking ahead to Saturday. For us it is all about resetting at zero and saying this is going to be the most difficult game of the tour."

Cheika, who previously coached Irish provincial side Leinster, said he would be looking to the players he allowed to miss the France match, such as influential flanker Michael Hooper, to get back into the swing of things.

The coach picked out injury-plagued Irish flanker Sean O'Brien, who made an outstanding return to the Ireland side against New Zealand on Saturday, as a dangerman.

"He is a quality player and I feel for him a bit because of the number of injuries he has had," Cheika said.

"But like a thoroughbred racehorse who comes back from injury and wins every time he returns, he plays like he hasn't been away. He is straight in there."