TO get to the nub of what makes Michael Cheika tick you need to understand a little about what came before him. The year is 1950 and Joe Cheika – Michael's father – has decided to emigrate to Australia where the government is looking for workers. A Maronite Christian, Cheika has long known the jagged barbs of religious persecution in Lebanon and, besides, there is a strong Lebanese community where he is headed, which dates back to the sugar cane boom of the 1800s. At first he works on the railway, then establishes his own import/export business before becoming a trade advisor to the government. In Sydney, he meets Therese, who comes from the same village, they marry and three children follow, of which Michael is the second.

Life growing up in Coogee – the suburb of Sydney where Michael was raised – centred on two things surfing and rugby. Cheika played both codes league and union but it was at Randwick that he was to make his name playing more than 300 games as No.8 who was powerful and energetic but not particularly skilled with the ball in hand, and certainly not of the requisite quality to become a full international despite being named in the Under-21s early in his career. Rather than hang about waiting for something that wasn't going to happen he opted for a move to France with Castres.

“I took the easy option out. I went and played overseas. I always found an excuse why someone didn’t pick me. Because of this or because of that, a different background or the wrong school or because I played league.

“I always felt I got judged a little harder. I was probably seeing things through my eyes that maybe most people were seeing something different. So it was me looking at it in a certain way and persecuting myself, as opposed to others being hard on me.”

It makes Cheika a complex, contradictory character: he has been described as a blunt force who uses fear to extract the maximum from his players but at the same time he is fluent in Arabic, French and Italian while he is in the process of learning Portuguese. He was a hard-as-nails No.8 and once confronted notorious hatchetman Wayne “Buck” Shelford when Randwick played the All Blacks in 1988; after a punch that floored him, Cheika stood up and delivered the immortal line: 'Is that all you've got, mate?' The other side of Cheika is the man who worked for Australian dressmaker Collette Dinnigan as her fixer and manager. He does not fit the identikit of your typical growling back-rower even if that's exactly what he was. Further evidence of his more enlightened side could be seen when he set up his own fashion brand selling jeans.

So successful was his company that he is now a self-made millionaire. Thus he chooses to do as he pleases and that is evidenced in his career choices as a coach: first in Italy with Petrarca Padova, at his alma mater Randwick, then in Ireland for a storied spell with Leinster, before a more ignominious time at Stade Francais, rebirth at Waratahs and undoubted failure with Australia.

He retains the implacable demeanour of a man who is not required to work but rather one who wants to.

“What that independence allows you to do is not to compromise,” he once said. “You are able to make decisions on what you think is right for the team and not worry that you could lose your job.”

Like most top coaches, he has successfully harnessed the benefits of creating a siege mentality among his players borrowing heavily from his own experiences. His self-perception is that of an immigrants' son, a Maronite attempting to get inside the old boys club. And so he thrives off persecution and a lack of affection.

Once as coach of Waratahs, he telephoned disgruntled supporters who had made death threats against him to reassure them he would turn his side's form around. Infamously, in 2017, after Australia were humbled in their own backyard by Scotland, Cheika contacted a drunken Wallabies fan who had written an 800-word Facebook post ranting about their 24-19 defeat and so Cheika sought to meet his critic head on.

“I think that’s important that you talk to the fans,” Cheika said. “I just spoke to him about some of the things that we’re feeling and what we want to do and what’s going on in the background because we’re feeling the same thing as the fans, too.”

Yet, the success that he had enjoyed at Leinster – where he won the Heineken Cup in 2009 – and Waratahs where he guided the team to the Super Rugby crown in 2014 – would continue to elude him during his time in charge of the Wallabies. His reign came to an end in 2019 after some notable and particularly unwanted firsts at the World Cup. Cheika's Australia conceded the largest number of points per game, the most tries since 1987, the highest number of points conceded in a game at the World Cup and a record margin of defeat.

His blemished record did not dissuade others from pursuing him. His readiness to seek out new challenges and dogged work ethic explain why he currently serves two other teams – the Lebanese rugby league side where he is also head coach and Japanese outfit, Green Rockets Tokatsu, where he works as a consultant.

Old bonds run deep, however. When he was brought to Argentina as part of Mario Ledesma's coaching set-up in 2020 he refused to wear the blue training kit of his new team.

“I had to put it on a little bit at a time, every day,” Cheika said.

But times have changed: his old friend Ledesma has stepped down, club side Jaguares have been cut from Super Rugby and he will be drawing on his old siege tactics.

The duality of the man tells us that there is Gameface Cheika – the one of broken noses and cauliflower ears – and then there is Urbane Cheika, the polyglot who would, as Dinnigan put it “very elegantly greet all our international fashion buyers in Paris and address them in various languages”.

Tonight in Jujuy, there will be no prizes for guessing which Cheika will grip Gregor Townsend's hand inside Estadio 23 de Agosto before kick-off.