Sitting through the opening Bledisloe Test was as sickening and uncomfortable a sporting experience as I can remember.
There was nothing good to say about it. No positives. No glimmer of hope for the suffering Australian Rugby community and Wallaby supporters.
All the wash-up from Wallabies vs All Blacks Bledisloe 1:
» QUIGLEY: Bledisloe a damning indictment
» LORD: Rugby is an 80-minute game
» Match report: All Blacks wallop Wallabies
» What changes should Australia make for Bledisloe 2?
» Vote in our DIY Wallabies player ratings
» WATCH: Highlights from Bledisloe 1
» WATCH: Michael Cheika’s post game comments
» Re-live the match with our live blog
Michael Cheika looked and sounded dejected as he appeared mumbling just after half time on the telecast. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
The fact is that he was never ready for the head coaching job but ‘somehow’ found himself filling Ewen McKenzie’s seat after a player revolt ended Link’s Wallaby coaching tenure.
The fact that there was no other alternative to Michael Cheika at the time can’t have been lost on the Michael Hoopers and Kurtley Beales of this world. But that lack of options was a terrible thing in hindsight.
Cheika was able to dictate his terms. He would have ultimate say on selections. He would ensure that the back room staff were ‘yes men’. The programme was not the Wallaby programme or high performance programme, it was the ‘Michael Cheika Show’.
And so it is that 19 August 2017, perhaps the darkest of all dark days for Australian Rugby, was on Michael Cheika.
It is not unfair to load all the blame on Cheika. Yes, Australian Rugby is at a very low ebb due to the ineptitude of the ARU. It is true that the Wallabies were outskilled by the All Blacks. It isn’t Cheika’s job to teach basic skills.
But no Wallaby side, not even this one, should be down 40-6 at halftime in a home test. Not even against the All Blacks. Period.
The second half tries and endeavour does not change any of that. It just makes it a little less embarrassing. The equivalent of a cricket side making it to 100 after being five wickets for nine runs after 25 overs.
Cheika had four weeks to prepare the Wallabies. Can you imagine if Warren Gatland had somehow secured that many weeks with the Lions before the series this year?
Nathan Grey was somehow promoted to head of defence in the national set up despite the Waratahs being the worst Aussie province defensively in Super Rugby.
It quite simply is not ‘Waratah Bashing’ to question how it is that Grey finds himself almost unimpeachable with the Wallabies.
That is especially the case after the side missed over twenty tackles in the first 25 minutes of the game and often found themselves totally bewildered and disoriented while defending.
The same can be said about selections. Ned Hanigan is simply not ready arguably for provincial rugby let alone tests. Kurtley Beale did not deserve to be rushed back in. Moore, a great servant of Aussie Rugby, did not warrant what amounted to effectively a ‘testimonial’ in a Bledisloe.
Cheika’s selection strategy warrants an entire article. He chops and changes. Selects players out of position. Hanigan’s selection is mystifying. Simmons is out then in then out and then seemingly back in again. Cooper is hammered for bad form but Douglas is kept in the fold. You could go on and on.
Then there are tactics and strategy. Gatland had effectively handed Cheika a blue print on how to at least compete against New Zealand. Yet he totally ignored it. Why? How is that in any way astute or competent?
My view is that the major problem with Cheika and the Wallabies is that he is unaccountable. What he says goes.
I can’t see anyone in the back room staff really challenging Cheika. Sure Ledesma is a pretty ferocious individual. Larkham must have plenty of good ideas. But neither will really rock the boat and both are patrons. One a loyal servant and the other serving an apprenticeship.
So what is the answer? Like most things in Australian rugby, there is no easy fix. But accountability is the key.
The fact is that after a three-nil series loss to England, a home loss to Scotland and a thrashing by the All Blacks, Cheika’s credits have run out. Could you imagine a lack of change or accountability if Australia lost the Ashes three-nil?
Jake White or someone of similar gravitas needs to come in to oversee. Cheika won’t like reporting to anyone but I do not care. He obviously needs supervision.
White would immediately bring a strong and neutral voice to selection discussions. Even for appearances’ sake that is a good thing.
There would also be a healthy debate about direction and team strategy. There quite simply doesn’t seem to be any game plan. Yes, you can play running rugby, but there needs to be some structure and apparent approach.
It should be obvious that you can’t play the same against New Zealand that you do against Italy. It should be.
I am sure that White would also insist on Nathan Grey falling on his sword. He simply can’t expect to retain his job. Defence was non-existence in the first 40 minutes on Saturday night. How Grey has been promoted and still in a job is a question that Cheika must be forced to answer.
The fact is that nobody is asking Cheika these questions because he doesn’t report to anyone and knows there are no serious challengers for his position.
Nothing I have seen from the Brumbies or Wallabies suggests Larkham has what it takes. The romantic in me would love to see Dave Weasels wind up as Wallaby coach but he is not ready.
That does not change the fact that change needs to occur. Maybe not in the head coaching position yet. But certainly structurally.
Dictatorship is never a good thing in any walk of life. The Wallabies and Michael Cheika are no exception.