All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says he has plenty of respect for his Wallabies rival Michael Cheika and labelling him as “Mickey Mouse” earlier this year was in jest.
The opposing coaches have traded spicy barbs over the years and ahead of the Bledisloe Cup Test in Perth on Saturday Hansen was put on the spot about his comment.
Hansen made headlines in February when he mocked Cheika at a charity event in Wellington.
Ex-Wallabies star Mark Ella had said: “Mickey Mouse could coach the All Blacks to victory” and Hansen responded by saying: “They’ve got Mickey Mouse coaching Aussie.”
With the sides squaring off for the first time since, Cheika bristled when asked about it the comment.
“Oh mate, is that even a question?” Cheika said.
“No drama for me.
“There is certain things in footy that you … respect is an important thing in footy.”
Hansen later attempted to explain his comment, saying there was no malice.
“I never said he was Mickey Mouse,” Hansen said.
“So you can make a big thing out of it if you want, or you can take it for what it was – something in jest.
“I have got plenty of respect for what Michael has done, end of story.”
Despite the barbs Cheika said there was mutual respect between the two countries demonstrated by Australia’s willingness to commemorate the passing of All Blacks great Brian Lochore.
“When New Zealand sent me an email about it the first thing I did without hesitation was saying yes,” he said.
“He’s an icon of the game and at an occasion like this should be commemorated with a moment’s silence before a match.”
All Blacks players will wear specially created jerseys that will carry Lochore’s All Blacks number on their sleeves.
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