Anyone can contribute to The Roar and have their work featured alongside some of Australia’s most prominent sports journalists.
Well. That certainly escalated quickly.
What began as a humble vent ended with calls from media outlets across Australia, New Zealand and even the BBC in London – and ultimately the Wallabies coach, Michael Cheika.
Firstly, allow me to provide some context for my now infamous ‘rant’, for there were a number of contributing factors at play.
Frustrations, built up from more than a decade of mismanagement, poor decision making and neglect of the grassroots game from the ARU, had me on edge. The Wallabies’ poor result on Saturday was just the moment it reached critical mass and I decided to put pen to paper.
The long evening after the 5pm finish provided me, and I’m sure countless others, with an extended window to reflect upon what we’d just seen. The result was a passionate outcry from a broken man who felt like his childhood heroes had never been as far away from him as they seemed at that moment.
The incredible reality is that thanks to social media, it brought me closer to them than I’ve ever been.
I’ve said all week there are parts of my letter I wish I could have over again – in particular, my calling out of individual players (Bernard Foley, Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau). In team sports, I’m not a fan of singling out individuals for blame and it didn’t sit well with me when it became apparent that they’d likely end up reading it in front of their teammates.
The message could have been delivered just as effectively without those individual barbs, and I’ve contacted those players this week to express those sentiments.
I did consider editing the post on Sunday afternoon when I’d had a chance to read it back, but by that point it had already collected tens of thousands of likes and had clearly struck a nerve with a lot of people. I felt that censoring the content of the post would take away a lot of the raw emotion from it, and that’s ultimately what the vast majority of people were feeling the connection to.
On Sunday evening, I received a message from Iain Payten, rugby writer for the Daily Telegraph. It simply read “Just so you know, I hit Cheiks up about your letter, he definitely knows about it. Don’t be surprised if he gets in touch.”
It’s probably the most terrifying message I’ve ever received. This is a man who is feared by the most fearsome of men. A former Leinster player once admitted to always giving 100 per cent purely out of trepidation of what may happen if he didn’t.
When I picked up the phone at lunchtime on Monday, it was different.
A long silence was eventually broken with “Jack. It’s Michael. How are you?”
What followed was almost half an hour of genuine heart-to-heart rugby chat between two rugby men.
He wasn’t angry at all. He was calling to thank me for caring as much about the Wallabies as I did.
We spoke about my letter, and he totally got it. He told me how he’d printed it out and it had been waiting for the players when they arrived, and was now stuck up on the dressing room wall.
He told me how he’d encouraged the players to read it, and to those who initially reacted angrily, he had explained to them this wasn’t a piece of hate-mail. It was a passionate letter written from a perspective of frustration, but ultimately from a perspective of love.
I was able to explain that my frustrations with the game ran far deeper than him and his squad, but unfortunately for them, they were the outlet for my grief.
He refused to accept that it was unfortunate and insisted that it was, in fact, a privilege that he and his players got to be the ones that people like me turn to in search of validation.
Cheika admitted that he and the players had shared similar feelings in the hours after the game to those I had expressed. He offered some context and reasoning as to why we weren’t quite at our best, but also went to great lengths to stress that he was offering explanations, not excuses, and that ultimately he took full responsibility for his misfiring troops.
There was, however, one point from the letter that he refused to cop – that the players didn’t care. He wasn’t willing to back down on that one at all. He made it very clear that not only do the players care as much as I do, but that it was incorrect for me to assert they didn’t.
After hearing the sincerity in his voice, I absolutely believed him.
The conversation finished with Cheika asking me to save his number for future use, encouraging me to contact him again any time that I felt I needed to.
I won’t, of course.
But the gesture was genuine, and he signed off by saying, “I’m just a pleb too, I just happen to coach the team”.