Cheika a ray of sunlight after Australian rugby’s false dawn

Adam D'Arcy Columnist

By Adam D'Arcy, Adam D'Arcy is a Roar Expert

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    Michael Cheika has to go back to the drawing board. (Source: AAP Image/Theron Kirkman)

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    Let’s wind the clock back three months. The Waratahs had just won the Super Rugby title, beating the Crusaders in an epic match in front of over 61,000 fans, ending an era of under achievement and years of disappointment for supporters of the Sydney franchise.

    A new national competition was due to begin, heralded as the launching pad for the supremely talented unknown names of Australian rugby.

    Its fundamental role was to act as the third tier of rugby in the country, and bridge the gap between provincial and Test match rugby, like the Currie Cup and NPC have done so successfully for South Africa and New Zealand.

    The ARU announced a groundbreaking change in the flexibility of central contracts, allowing players who sign long-term with the union the option of an overseas sojourn.

    Effective from 2016, its main aim was to keep high-profile personalities like Israel Folau in the code, ensuring increased youth participation at grassroots level, as well as keeping the game afloat financially in the competitive Australian sporting market.

    The Wallabies entered into the Rugby Championship in arguably a better place than they had been for quite some time.

    Australian rugby was on high. Disgruntled fans had returned with new-found optimism, believing in a return to the golden days of Australian rugby, when our trophy cabinet was full, and the majority of the population, even those who weren’t rugby fans, could name at least half the Wallabies.

    We were riding on the crest of a wave not seen since John Eales was captain, and I was belting out the words to ‘Run Wallaby Run’ in the car on the way to my Under 10s Beecroft versus Hillview grand final at TG Milner.

    Finally, as we kicked off in the first Bledisloe Cup in Sydney, Ewen McKenzie was head coach, and Kurtley Beale our starting 10.

    How quickly things change.

    Even after that first drawn Test match with the Kiwis, a match we should have won, the intent by the Wallabies to play an attacking style of rugby was on show. It was wet and windy, but we took quick lineouts, quick taps, refused kicks at goal, and played a style of rugby that supporters had been yearning for.

    We travelled to Eden Park the following week with the strong belief that we could end our drought there. Alan Jones was interviewed about 50 times in the week leading up to the match, as the last coach to win at the ground, and rugby took up more than just one page in the Friday newspaper.

    If ever there was a time for rugby in Australia to put itself back on the map, now was it.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t go to script. We were battered by an All Blacks team who sought to put an end to a barrage of criticism from their own media about their performance the previous week.

    It all went downhill from there. Although scrappy home wins followed over Argentina and South Africa, we were beaten away by the same teams, and then continued our dry run against New Zealand, stretching their unbeaten run against us to 10 matches.

    As the Wallabies departed on their annual spring tour, without both McKenzie and Beale, the game in Australia is in a worse position than ever.

    While there is scintillating rugby on show, and the success of the new rules is clear to see, the NRC has failed to draw crowds, and television audiences for the one live Thursday night fixture are nowhere near the height of other rival codes.

    It was no wonder the Wallabies exited the country swiftly and with little noise, eager to get away from the media circus surrounding ARU headquarters and concentrate on finishing the season with some sort of form going into a World Cup year under new coach Michael Cheika.

    While results over the next month in Europe are important, and will go a long way in softening the response they receive from the media and public when they return home, it’s the progress made off the field, laying a solid foundation both in management structure as well as team culture, that the Wallabies need to get out of this tour.

    Cheika, by the sounds of those who have played under him, and the impressive record that he has at provincial level both at home and abroad, is the right man for the job. Apart from his success on the field, it’s his ability to galvanise a team – in a no frills approach, demanding respect and responsibility from each individual – that the Wallabies so desperately needs.

    He took the Waratahs, perennial under-achievers, to the Super Rugby title this year with a coaching framework built on trust, honesty, and hard work – traits that are fundamental to any professional outfit. It’s why he is the perfect man for the job at this point in time.

    Those that have gone before him, Robbie Deans and Ewen McKenzie, are by no means bad coaches, their records speak for themselves, but it’s Cheika’s man management that sets him apart.

    In an era where senior players and individuals do a lot of the coaching themselves, both on the training and playing field, it’s the way they are managed off it, creating a positive and challenging environment, that breeds success.

    His experience in coaching in Europe with Leinster and Stade Francais will also help the Wallabies on the tour, as it’s the last time they will come face to face with their Northern Hemisphere counterparts before next year’s World Cup.

    Every rugby side is awash with differing personalities, a mix of youth and experience. Getting them on the same page off the field goes a long way to how they perform on it. I see that as Cheika’s main goal, and it starts this week against the Barbarians.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • November 1st 2014 @ 3:46am
      s.t.rine said | November 1st 2014 @ 3:46am | ! Report

      You are forgetting last match against NZ when Wallabies played committed & confident rugby, only to lose at last gasp
      as “One Foot Out The Door” McKenzie did not substitute. To my mind 77 minutes of game was W’s best is months
      S T

    • November 1st 2014 @ 3:52am
      Mike Caxton said | November 1st 2014 @ 3:52am | ! Report

      You can hear the sucking sound coming from Crow’s Nest in London

      • Roar Rookie

        November 1st 2014 @ 7:48am
        Stray Gator said | November 1st 2014 @ 7:48am | ! Report

        You’re a bitter little man, aren’t you?

      • November 1st 2014 @ 12:42pm
        tinman said | November 1st 2014 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

        Ohh man what a sight.. lmao

      • November 1st 2014 @ 2:12pm
        bennalong said | November 1st 2014 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

        B.O.H.I.C.A!!!!!

      • November 1st 2014 @ 2:15pm
        bennalong said | November 1st 2014 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

        Dear Mr Caxton,

        On that subject I find you entirely credible.

    • November 1st 2014 @ 6:15am
      Billy Bob said | November 1st 2014 @ 6:15am | ! Report

      Aww Adam.
      You took me back. The grand final at Milner against Hillview.
      As a boy I played for Hillview and played four grand finals on that paddock.
      A fella named Gerry used to sell the programs.

      • November 1st 2014 @ 10:05am
        IronAwe said | November 1st 2014 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        I played for Epping Rams! I don’t know why, but back in the day we hated Hillview with a passion! haha, good times.

    • Roar Guru

      November 1st 2014 @ 7:40am
      Simon Levingston said | November 1st 2014 @ 7:40am | ! Report

      I agree it is Cheika’s talent of being able to galvanise the players together with a no nonsense approach. It looks and sounds easy, but it isn’t. I wonder if Daryl Gibson, the former All Black and Waratah’s attack coach is going to be appointed. He has shown, like Natan Grey, the Waratah’s defence coach, to be a cut above the average. Cheika has a very good eye for talent too. This also sounds easy too, but it isn’t. This was the weakness of Mckenzie, he did not have as critical eye for talent as Cheika. It wax Mckenzie’s strange selections that bought him down i.e. Di Patston and KB at 10 etc. To follow the same train of thought this will be the downfall of Pulver, as he selected poorly in pinning his hopes on McKenzie. Hawker because he selected poorly in picking his school mate and golfing partner Bill Pulver. The ARU board because they selected poorly by electing Hawker as Chairman. It looks easy but the consequences of being sloppy or lacking vision has its consequences. This should be a lesson to us all!

      • November 1st 2014 @ 8:18am
        Highlander said | November 1st 2014 @ 8:18am | ! Report

        Simon – what would your criteria for selecting the ARU chairman have been.
        Respected long term international. grand slam winner, success in the financial markets in London, CEO of an Australian list ASX company – seem to me to be pretty good criteria and hardly a poor selection based on his history.
        Interested in your 2 or 3 criteria for selecting his replacement – other than a crystal ball of course.

      • November 1st 2014 @ 11:13am
        William Tell said | November 1st 2014 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        And when McKenzie was appointed, the alternatives were….whoever was coaching the Warratahs I suppose.

        And there we have it – dropped ball, missed tackles, turn-overs, front row collapses, tentative rucking and mauling, on-field tactical blunders….all down to Di Patston.

        That’s the kind of analysis that gets you “guru” status here?

        • Roar Rookie

          November 1st 2014 @ 11:35am
          Stray Gator said | November 1st 2014 @ 11:35am | ! Report

          Of course Ms Patston was not to blame for the onfield errors and late game fade outs. But the buck has to stop somewhere. If not McKenzie, where? There WERE some very unusual selections and tactical decisions. If not by McKenzie, by whom?

          If over the next five games we witness a step change in onfield performance, there can only be one possible cause.

    • November 1st 2014 @ 8:45am
      Tissot Time said | November 1st 2014 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Of course MC is the man to do the job because he was the last man standing after an exhaustive and competitive recruitment process that considered a broad range of candidates.
      As to his man management the old nature v nurture argument. Gene quality is still gene quality and as we’re constantly being reminded on these pages Australian Rugby gets the crumbs from nature’s table.

    • November 1st 2014 @ 8:47am
      Jules said | November 1st 2014 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      Give the NRC a chance it’s only been one season! Don’t think to many sports could claim wonderful sucess in one season!

      • November 1st 2014 @ 11:16am
        Crazy Horse said | November 1st 2014 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        Exactly right.

        It’s very hard for the public to get behind it given the almost total lack of promotion of the competition by the ARU and Foxtel. Most people not already in the rugby system don’t even know the competition exists.

        BTW despite this the physical attendance at NRC matches in Perth is on par with the WAFL, the equivalent level Aussie Rules competition in WA.

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