Cheika’s chaotic culture in crisis

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    One red card, three yellows and a Disciplinary Review of Michael Cheika’s off-field behaviour. All in 160 minutes of rugby.

    That is a spectacular failure of team culture and values. A failure from the coach and captain through to two of the Wallabies’ most experienced players, Kurt Beale and Sekope Kepu.

    There is a crisis of hypocrisy and authenticity in Michael Cheika’s much vaunted ‘team culture’ that is rubbing off on coaches, players and spectators alike.

    And that crisis starts and ends with Michael Cheika himself.

    Sitting through the England game at Twickenham, I found myself surrounded by Englishmen smiling delightedly at me repeatedly.

    Each pivotal decision that went England’s way was celebrated in a typical understated Pommie fashion. Cheeky glances over the shoulder, a nod towards the big screen, polite chuckles.

    Was I to applaud hollowly and put on a brave face, or decry the refereeing?

    Watching Michael Cheika storm down the stairs just before half time mouthing off at spectators, I decided the world (and TMO) must be against the Wallabies. It must be.

    The truth is much more worrying.

    The tight victory against the All Blacks now must be considered more of a total anomaly than a false dawn. When you factor in that New Zealand was playing with its third choice ten and no Brodie Retallick it becomes even more hollow.

    Kurtley Beale makes a break

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Drawing twice against the South Africans also becomes even less impressive than it already was in light of Ireland’s systematic thrashing of the Boks. They are a side in disarray for reasons not of their own making.

    Then there is the last game of the season, the game where you salute a 129 Test stalwart and put down a culture marker for next year. That went well didn’t it?

    The Wallabies didn’t just give up against Scotland, they almost looked like a team that felt like the world owed them, especially in the last 30 minutes of the game.

    The players appeared totally incredulous and convinced they’d been hard done by. Kind of like how Michael Cheika convinced me that the refs owed the Wallabies more at Twickenham.

    Cheika talks a good game. The ‘no excuse culture’ I think he calls it. Yet his sullen, confrontational press conferences and grandstand antics paint a different picture.

    The players on the field seem to be taking his lead. Where is the accountability for stupid decision making and even stupider disciplinary infractions?

    Michael Hooper is now the most yellow carded player in Test match history. Will he be captain and play 7 when Dave Pocock returns? You betcha.

    Beale was carded in successive games. Will Michael Cheika tell him it was stupid or just bad luck? I’d love to know, but I suspect the latter.

    The Kepu red was a coach killer. But again, I suspect that Cheika will put it down to the rub of the green going against the Wallabies.

    It is no wonder that discipline is falling apart on match days given the history of accountabilty within the Michael Cheika regime.

    I’ve written before that the tone was set by the circumstances surrounding Cheika’s appointment as Wallaby coach.

    Ewen McKenzie lost the support of senior Waratahs, I mean Wallabies. Their reward for the greatest crime in Australian rugby history outside of the Force fiasco was the coach they wanted.

    Hooper was appointed captain – a mystifying decision that means it becomes very difficult for David Pocock, the best 7 in the world, to actually play 7 at the next world cup.

    Beale was rushed back into the side and all past indiscretions deemed unworthy of Mr Cheika’s attention. It’s not his job to worry about character and discipline off the field as I understand it.

    Michael Cheika Wallabies

    (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    Nathan Gray’s defensive coordination, or lack thereof, conceded more than 100 points against Wales, England and Scotland. Will he be held accountable? He wasn’t after the Wallabies had 40 points put on them in as many minutes in the opening Bledisloe. So again accountability now must be doubtful.

    It’s a new defensive system after all. Players still a bit unsure and at sea. Just bedding in really. Excuses in a ‘no excuses’ culture.

    You could go on.

    Players awarded with selection despite being totally underwhelming even at a provincial level is perhaps the most obvious hypocrisy totally at odds with the ‘accountability’ mantra.

    And again, all of this starts and ends with Michael Cheika.

    The excuses are now wearing very very thin indeed.