It’s Michael Cheika and try time for the Waratahs
NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika (Image: Supplied)
At 5.38 pm on Monday night, NSW Waratahs media sent out a release announcing the appointment of a head coach would be made on Tuesday at 10.30.
I replied that I would be there to hear what Mr Michael Cheika, the obvious candidate for the job, would have to say.
Cheika’s appointment had been leaked to the media, in fact, for some days. The Roar ran a note “>suggesting he had the job on Monday.
So there we were at Waratahs Rugby HQ in the conference room at 10.30 today and in walked, surprise, suprise (not) Michael Cheika, the new and impressive chairman of the Waratahs franchise, former Wallaby, Rhodes Scholar and successful businessman Roger Davis and the CEO Jason Allen.
I can report that the siege mentality of the Waratahs franchise has been lifted.
There were smiles all around. Allen shook my hand and said with some conviction, ‘nice to see you.’ He also greeted Peter Crittle, a former NSW chairman and great Wallaby in his heyday, with some affection.
I make this point because at the forum that was held for supporters to meet the players, coaches and staff of the franchise to thrash out what was going wrong, no one among the players or the officials had a clue who the burly, white-haired older man in the audience who stood up and demolished the way the Waratahs were playing was.
It was, in fact, Terry Curley, the great Wallaby and Waratahs full-back and successful coach at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill.
I thought it was significant, in the light of this, that Davis acknowledged the presence of Crittle.
And in his impressive summary of why and how Cheika was appointed, Davis said this: “We had about a dozen candidates but the selection of Michael Cheika was unanimous.
“In addition to a wealth of domestic and international coaching experience, Michael has a proven track record as an inspirational leader and an agent of change.
“We believe he is the right man to embrace the Waratahs’ great tradition and ambition and develop a strong and succesful culture that embraces our supporters, partners and stakeholders.”
Davis could not say this but I will. When his statement is deconstructed it means that the Waratahs will go back to their traditional style which is for expansive and winning rugby driven by forwards who are athletic and have, as Cheika noted later on in the conference, a ‘bit of mongrel in them.’
If you want a short-hand description of the traditional Waratahs style you need to go no further than the famous ‘Galloping Greens’ method of the Randwick Club during its glory days of the Ellas, David Campese, Simon Poidevin (a forward with mongrel in his play if ever there was one!) and Michael Cheika, a number 8 who captained Randwick from 1997 – 1999 and later coached them to Premier League success in 2003/04.
The death rites to the appalling ‘win ugly’ vision were read out in Roger Davis’ opening statement and later when Cheika explained why he was pleased about his appointment:
“The opportunity to coach the Super Rugby team of my home state and the responsibility to make all our supporters and all the people from NSW proud of their team is one that motivates me immensely.
“My immediate goal is to establish our indentity loud and clear, inside and outside of the team: who we are, how we are going to play the game and what we are prepared to do to earn the respect of our team-mates, our supporters and our competitors, as an individual and as a team.’
I would make a fearless prediction here as a gloss to what Cheika was saying and just as importantly, implying.
The era of the Waratahs franchise being dominated and almost destroyed by player power is over.
Players, even those at the highest levels in the team, who try and contest power in the franchise from the coach will be booted out.
The back to the future Waratahs will be a coach-driven side. This raises the question: Is Michael Cheika up to this challenge?
His career suggests he is. He has a tremendous experience in rugby in NSW having played 300 and more games for the Galloping Greens. As Davis pointed out, he doesn’t have to be indoctrinated into the heritage and efficiency of the traditional Waratahs game.
As a side-point, Davis explained that the board’s clear determination to base the revival of the franchise in the revival of the traditional Waratahs game led it to insist that the new coach had to be an Australian, preferably as it turned out, someone who did not have to be taught the heritage of the Waratahs.
Cheika also has an excellent coaching record. He has won the Shute Shield with Randwick, and with Leinster a Magner’s Celtic Cup and a Heineken Cup in 2009.
He has done this with teams that have played attacking, successful rugby that supporters have enjoyed and endorsed with big crowd numbers. Hopefully, something similar is in store for Waratahs supporters in 2013.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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