Can Michael Cheika transform himself as Wallabies coach?

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    We’ve all seen the TV programmes. A high-profile ‘celebrity’ expert addresses a failing business and (more often than not) comes up with a spectacular turnaround in the space of about one hour’s viewing. Cue an emotional outpouring of gratitude from the rescued owners.

    In the U.K, it all started with Sir John Harvey-Jones and Troubleshooter back in the early 1990s. More recently, top chef Gordon Ramsey in Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares and hotelier Alex Polizzi in The Fixer have taken up the same torch in restaurants and hotels.

    It is like a televisual whirlwind. They visit and assess, make the necessary fixes and then depart, perhaps returning a few months down the line to check on progress.

    The formula has proved highly addictive on our TV screens. In business it’s called ‘transformational leadership’ and there are some prominent rugby coaches who fall into that category.

    Often they have already made their fortunes outside the sport, and so they can afford not to be a part of its institutional or administrative apparatus. Businessmen like Alan Jones in the mid-1980s in Australia, Clive Woodward in the late 1990s in England and now Michael Cheika with the Wallabies had all earned the right to that independence from the unions who employed them and did not depend on the income they received.

    Such men represent a new broom ready to sweep the house clean. They have an inspiring vision of how they want to play the game and they have the charisma to get a buy-in from the players. They treat them as ‘whole’ people rather than as employees in order to encourage trust and loyalty and establish a stronger bond within the group than those the players experience elsewhere (for example at their clubs). They actively encourage innovation and creativity from their coaching assistants in the resolution of problems.

    Transformational leadership represents development by upheaval. Changes tend to be radical and often rub administrative bodies the wrong way. Alan Jones’ period as Wallaby coach was marked by unprecedented on-field success in the years between 1984 and 1987 but also by internal strife off it which brought his tenure to an abrupt end.

    Alan Jones Wallabies coach

    (Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

    Woodward’s time in charge of England was defined by frequent clashes with the RFU which forced his resignation within one year of winning the World Cup. His transformational impact on another great rugby institution, the British and Irish Lions, also backfired in spectacular fashion in 2005.

    When the transformational coach leaves, success can be very difficult to maintain. England fell through the floor in 2004 under Woodward’s successor Andy Robinson and their winning percentage dropped by 30 per cent. After Michael Cheika left the Waratahs in 2015, their winning percentage dropped by 26 per cent.

    When Cheika took over the reins of the national team from Ewen McKenzie, the situation was primed for him to succeed. After McKenzie’s sudden resignation, Australian rugby was in a state of upheaval and it urgently needed transformation.

    Cheika drove forward the implementation of ‘Giteau’s law’, which allowed him to select experienced overseas-based players. He innovated with the creation of the ‘Pooper’ back-row and added a new scrum coach from outside the country in ex-Puma Mario Ledesma. He made the fixes and rightly reaped the rewards throughout the year, both in the Rugby Championship and at the World Cup.

    Rebuilding and consolidation is another matter, and it is here that Cheika has to find something new in his coaching character and resumé. Australia’s win rate has dropped back to 40 per cent since the beginning of 2016 from the peak of 83 per cent in World Cup year.

    We rarely get to see what happened off-camera, in the Gordon Ramsey failures, but in rugby they are too obvious to ignore.

    Particularly in the area of selection, there is a sense that Cheika is still trying to change the situation through a series of upheavals, rather than stick with the process, patiently rebuild and place one brick on top of another.

    In the two matches against New Zealand, Allan Alaalatoa started at tighthead with only one full season of Super Rugby under his belt at the position, and in Dunedin he was exposed through no fault of his own. Both he and Samu Kerevi were heralded as leaders within the team before their places in the starting line-up were assured.

    After being regulars in 2016, others like Reece Hodge and Lopeti Timani must be wondering what they have done wrong, as they appear in the squad one week and are out of it the next.

    Like Alan Jones before him, Cheika is trying to find the hidden gem in the dross. But where Jones sieved for gold and found neglected nuggets like Steve Cutler, Bill Campbell, Nick Farr-Jones and David Codey, in the professional era Cheika is experimenting with unproven youngsters at Super Rugby level like Ned Hanigan, Jack Dempsey and Jordan Uelese. It is costing him dearly.

    All three may become bonafide Test players in good time, but right now they do not have the background to succeed.

    Let’s take a look at Ned Hanigan first. Australia experienced a lot of problems at the breakdown in the first half at Perth, losing five bits of ball to turnovers or turnover penalties, with the loss of control in that area leading directly to the first Springboks try in the 25th minute:

    After Israel Folau makes the initial cut, Reece Hodge is first up to clean out Springbok number eight Uzair Cassiem. Cassiem wins the height battle in that contest, the Boks get a push through contact and the ball springs loose at the side of the ruck:

    Earlier problems in the same area had predicted this outcome. At the first Wallaby breakdown of the game, Ned Hanigan was unable to remove Pieter-Steph du Toit and South Africa were awarded a penalty:

    Players are coached to remove opponents in a way that is tailored to suit their physical abilities. With Du Toit already established above the tackle ball, Hanigan’s best chance is to remove him with a roll or peel-away technique as he is not strong or mature enough to blast him off the ball with power. Instead, he falls between the two stools.

    This theme was repeated later in the same half against Jaco Kriel, with Hanigan again riding up and over the top of the jackal:

    It was not the only time Hanigan had trouble with Kriel’s strength on his feet in contact:

    It is obvious from Hanigan’s body shape that he is not powerful enough in the upper body at this stage of his career to remove a defender as strong and tenacious as Kriel.

    The inexperience of some of the young players in Cheika’s match-day squad also became evident in other aspects of their contact work:

    Here Ned Hanigan is taking the ball into contact as the inside runner in a three-man pod, with his two supports (number 16 Jordan Uelese and number 17 Tom Robertson) running beyond him.

    But Hanigan chooses to cut back and away from his support and into the heaviest element of the Springbok defence, all 2.05m and 125kgs of Lood de Jager, eventually exposing the ball to a turnover by Kriel at a potentially game-winning moment!

    It wasn’t just the breakdown where Hanigan’s lack of physical maturity counted against him, it was also the case at the driving lineout:

    If a defender has been allowed to make contact with the receiver in the air by the referee, he has to make use of the opportunity to ‘swim’ past the blockers as the catcher comes back down to terra firma, and break up the drive. However, Hanigan is sealed away from the ball and the drive rumbles upfield for another 20 metres before it finally loses momentum.

    In the 59th minute, it was no accident that the driving lineout which brought the scores level arrowed through the space initially guarded by Hanigan (see the highlight reel), or that he gave up a penalty at the death for over-compensating, on this occasion competing too hard in the air against de Jager:

    It would be unfair to single out Hanigan as the sole culprit, however. He is the typical result of a policy which has accelerated the selection and promotion of young players with little Super Rugby experience beyond reasonable limits.

    With little or no real experience at number eight, Jack Dempsey was expected to come on in that role and control ball at the base of a struggling scrum in the last quarter:

    The ball spurts out at the side, it is seized by Kolisi and Hougaard and all of a sudden Australia are defending desperately in the shadow of their own posts a few moments later!

    Likewise, I sincerely hope that Allan Alaalatoa’s international career has not been too severely hampered by his early promotion to the starting XV, because his confidence certainly has taken a big hit. He was still bleeding after Dunedin psychologically when he came on against the Springboks, as the 67th-minute scrum from the reel illustrates.

    There is a positive and negative side to transformational leadership, and it is not all a tale of unblemished success stories – as watching a series of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares might have you believe!

    Michael Cheika had a great 2015, and everything he touched indeed transformed and turned into gold (or at least silver at the World Cup). But there has not been an effective period of consolidation since then, so the sense lingers that he has to find another string to his bow as an international head coach to take another step forward.

    The restless need for change or upheaval is constantly in evidence in playing and selection policy and it is hurting Australia. Kurtley Beale was back to the blindside wing in set-piece defence at Perth, despite his excellent contribution in the front line at Dunedin.

    Young players are being selected before they are physically mature, or have the background in Super Rugby which will enable them to succeed at the higher level. Allan Alaalatoa is a starting tighthead after one year of Super Rugby in the position, Ned Hanigan the starting number after one year there in the run-on side for the Waratahs.

    Ned Hanigan Australia Rugby Union Wallabies 2017

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Jack Demspey is expected to fill all the requirements at number eight after playing mostly on the flank, Jordan Uelese is expected to jump straight from the Wallaby under-20s into the full senior team with no Super Rugby under his belt at all.

    Cheika and his team still have the ability to produce a positive outcome from the current Rugby Championship and win their three remaining games. It is well within their grasp.

    But it will not be achieved by reaching for the impossible, or at least the highly unlikely, in selection.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick's latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled The Iron Curtain. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (382)

    • Roar Guru

      September 13th 2017 @ 5:02am
      Carlos the Argie said | September 13th 2017 @ 5:02am | ! Report

      Hello Nick!

      Almost 30 years of corporate career have made me quite skeptical of the transformational leader. Too many pathetic anecdotes to tell, too much frustration at show pieces and little content. Let me try with only one story. I was running a very large business unit at a company when the CEO is run out of town (appropriately so). The board brings in one of these saviors. At the first chance, he calls a meeting of all employees in the company cafeteria. We, the higher ups, were told to sit up front. There were hundreds of people at that facility, the corporate headquarters. In the front, there was a darkened podium. When the new CEO came to the podium, a bright line shined on him and we were specifically instructed by his handlers that we had to stand up and applaud loudly. Reminiscing Kim from Korea… This guy made some very obvious changes, things that were known to be needed but then sold the company and “escaped” with a few hundred millions or more to save some other shop… He also brought in lots of his sycophants to run the units. I manage to survive among the longest but then was told he needed someone from “his” group to run my unit… Fortunately, i knew this was coming (I was one of the very last survivors, it was clear). Life goes on!

      Anyway, back to rugby, poor Hang-on-igan (to quote Haribaldy Jones). He lacks the power and the technique to be there. So I have a lot of sympathy for him. I hope he is resilient and works on his weaknesses and doesn’t get discouraged. Good leadership should help him develop. Is that available to him?

      • Columnist

        September 13th 2017 @ 5:13am
        Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 5:13am | ! Report

        Yes the quick exit after the fix (real or otherwise) seems to be an inevitable part of the formula doesn’t it Carlos? In rugby you tend to see these coaches stay for about two or three years.

        I think Ned Hanigan has some potential. He plays with heart and has some good physical tools. But anyone can see he is not fully-developed in either a physical or a technical sense. It is harsh on a young man to be asked to do this in the glare of Test rugby with its intimate media exposure.

        Many thanks for your Argentine 1985 videos – I was touched by much of the content (even if I didn’t understand it all).

        • Roar Guru

          September 13th 2017 @ 6:23am
          Carlos the Argie said | September 13th 2017 @ 6:23am | ! Report

          Thanks for watching them. I wish I could sit with you and translate what is being said.

          Pancho Casado is such a character! I hadn’t seen him in close to 15 years and I walk in to the club and from the distance he yells my name. And then asks about my brothers and parents, by name! Then he proceeds to tell anecdotes about my family. And I never even made it to play a full game in the club’s first team! He is a wonderful man.

          • Columnist

            September 13th 2017 @ 6:27am
            Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 6:27am | ! Report

            Yes the translation would be very helpful – although having to understand by listening to tones of voice and watching facial expressions change is an experience worth the effort!

            • Roar Guru

              September 13th 2017 @ 8:07am
              Carlos the Argie said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

              Maybe one day we get to meet, Nick. I am not sure in which city you live! Then, we can exchange stories.

              Casado, as many others, is a bridge between the original Pumas and the new generation. In that video, he mentions van Heerden, the SA coach we were discussing the other day as so instrumental to Argentine rugby.

              And in the other video, that Cubelli is the father of the actual Puma (and ex-Brumby) scrum half.

              • Columnist

                September 13th 2017 @ 8:15am
                Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

                Maybe one day we get to meet, Nick. I am not sure in which city you live! Then, we can exchange stories.

                I look forward to that day Carlos!

        • Roar Rookie

          September 13th 2017 @ 6:38am
          moondoggie said | September 13th 2017 @ 6:38am | ! Report

          Anyone can see expect one M. Cheika it would appear.

          • Roar Rookie

            September 13th 2017 @ 6:53am
            moondoggie said | September 13th 2017 @ 6:53am | ! Report


            • September 13th 2017 @ 9:36am
              Ruckin Oaf said | September 13th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

              That’s the funny thing though a good coach can sometimes see what others can’t.

              Wasn’t Phil Kearns playing reserve grade before Bob Dwyer picked him for the Wallabies. Dwyer obviously saw something in Kearns that others had missed and the rest is history.

              At what point is a coach a visionary who can see what others can’t and at what point is he a loon persisting with an obviously crazy notion.

        • September 13th 2017 @ 1:38pm
          Crash Ball2 said | September 13th 2017 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

          Yes – really good, intuitive and timely article Nick.

          Like others, I feel for Hanigan. Cheika has done him a huge disservice by selecting him too early, disregarding moderate Super form; and then doggedly persisting with his selection despite his obvious ineffectiveness. He was not alone in being outplayed by the Bok backrow, but he was definitely the most obvious offender.

          The kid has potential. Good sized frame on which to add some beef, and young enough to improve his technique and discover some Finegan mongrel.

          Unfortunately, having been thrown to the wolves at this important stage of his rugby development, it is likely the “new Dean Mum” tag will forever follow Hanigan – even if he overcomes the mental scars, improves with time and experience and subsequently becomes a viable Test backrow option.

          Another myopic Cheika selection table trainwreck.

          • Columnist

            September 13th 2017 @ 3:57pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

            It’s also not a combination in the B/R as a whole CB. Although Timani has not been playing well, he is the ideal foil to slot in between McMahon and Hooper – big, powerful, physical, potentially can play a bit in the lineout.

            • September 14th 2017 @ 10:23am
              Perthstayer said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report


              Neil Back once said “if you’re good enough you’re big enough”. When considered too small he became the fittest man in rugby. I would not be surprised if his game didn’t influence Pocock.

              A few years for Hannigan to improve is too long. He needs to be ready for RC 2018 to be WC19 possible.

              My question: Are Hannigan’s weaknesses one’s he could overcome if he assumed a Neil Back like dedication to practise and fitness?

              • Columnist

                September 14th 2017 @ 4:41pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | September 14th 2017 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

                I think the main thing Perth is just for Hanigan to play more SR games to gain experience, and develop his body so that it can cope better with the rigours of Test match rugby.

      • Roar Rookie

        September 13th 2017 @ 7:49am
        Dave_S said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:49am | ! Report

        Yes Carlos and Nic – they are called “seagull managers” – they fly in with lots of squawking and flapping, take all the good chips, and fly out again while dumping on everything they leave behind.

        • Columnist

          September 13th 2017 @ 7:52am
          Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

          Thanks Dave – not heard that one before!

        • Roar Guru

          September 13th 2017 @ 10:00pm
          Kashmir Pete said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:00pm | ! Report

          fly in squarking, fly out pooping on everyone as the leave

      • September 13th 2017 @ 8:47am
        Fionn said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        ‘ Too many pathetic anecdotes to tell, too much frustration at show pieces and little content.’

        I love your contributions, Carlos.

        As for Hanigan, I feel bad for constantly criticising his efforts as it isn’t his fault that Cheika keeps selecting him. But how does Cheika not see what everyone else can see – that he is nowhere near being up for it?

        • Roar Guru

          September 13th 2017 @ 8:57am
          Carlos the Argie said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

          Thanks, Fionn!

        • September 13th 2017 @ 10:04am
          PiratesRugby said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

          Poor Hanigan is just one of many players Cheika has brought from a particular Super team into a position he doesn’t deserve. Skelton, Palu, Mumm, Horne, Robertson, Hanigan, Dempsey all take spots when they’re not quite up to it. More seriously, there are other players who are marginalised to make way for these. Coleman and Arnold could’ve been in RWC15 but we had to tolerate Skelton instead. Luke Jones had much better Super form than Skelton, Mumm, Dempsey and Hanigsn but never got a chance. Higgers has been cast out. Timani can’t get a proper run. It’s a bad situation for the players who miss out but also for the players who take a spot they don’t deserve.
          Which brings me to Hooper who displaced Pocock at 7. That was a disgrace which was exceeded by Hooper being made captain. Cheika should have moved heaven and earth to keep Pocock in Australia, in the 7 jumper and leading the side. Cheika has failed. And don’t get me started on Foley.
          All I can see is more and more Tah players getting ARU top ups. When the Tahs take the field against another Aussie team, the Tahs combined salaries far exceed the Reds, Brumbies, Rebels or Force. The salary cap effectively doesn’t apply to the Tahs because Cheika keeps promoting below average Tah players to the Wallabies.

          • September 13th 2017 @ 12:04pm
            Adsa said | September 13th 2017 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

            Yep, what Pirates said or +1 for me.

          • Columnist

            September 13th 2017 @ 3:59pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

            Tom Robertson is in the same position as Allan Alaalatoa, but the other way around. Originally selected as a WB tighthead, then swapped with AA to the opposite side. So basically found himself an accredited international while still trying to learn an entirely new role!

            • September 13th 2017 @ 10:02pm
              PiratesRugby said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:02pm | ! Report

              I’m sure Robertson is a great bloke. He’s a medical student isn’t he? Maybe with a few more seasons of club and super rugby he could be a Test prospect. His physique will develop, his fitness will improve and he’ll become more skilful. SAme goes for Hanugan and Dempsey.
              But Mumm was never any good. Foley is a proven dud. Phipps is as good as he’ll ever be. And Hooper is not a captain.

              • September 14th 2017 @ 7:06am
                Fionn said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:06am | ! Report

                Nick, I get the feeling you mustn’t have watched too much of the Tahs this year. Robertson is a weak scrummager at Super Rugby level, and his little to no impact around the park.

      • Roar Rookie

        September 13th 2017 @ 9:28am
        Die hard said | September 13th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        Outstanding Carlos!

        Made me laugh with commiseration. Life is obvious sometimes when you get older and jaded.

        Glad you landed on your feet.

        • Roar Guru

          September 13th 2017 @ 10:46am
          Carlos the Argie said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

          Die Hard,

          I’ll tell you another brief anecdote that stayed with me forever. Please, be patient.

          My boss (Executive VP of the company): “Carlos, you are not very reliable!”
          Me: “What do you mean I am not reliable? I’ve always delivered on forecasts and profit growth.”
          My boss: “You are not reliable because you don’t always do what i tell you, you only do it if its good for the business. You should always do what I tell you!”

          And there it goes…

          • Roar Rookie

            September 13th 2017 @ 12:11pm
            Die hard said | September 13th 2017 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

            Our new CEO (ex Woolworths) focused us on turning off wall switches after a demonstration. She lasted 3 months and then headed off elsewhere.

            They live in another world Carlos. Meanwhile the workers battle on. ?

            • Roar Guru

              September 13th 2017 @ 1:08pm
              Wal said | September 13th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

              Or one big noting MD I had who would pace the office chest out,
              “Sales is easy, you guys don’t know how to negotiate I’ll tell the customers we’re not giving in”
              Comes to one meeting goes to water and offers the customer more than the original request.

            • Columnist

              September 13th 2017 @ 4:01pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

              And it’s amazing how easily such folk hop from the same role in one company to another, always at the same level, almost regardless of success or failure!

              • September 15th 2017 @ 9:32am
                Alan said | September 15th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

                A truism Nick: You rise to your own level of incompetence…

                We also used to say that you keep getting promoted until you no longer upset the customers.

      • Roar Guru

        September 13th 2017 @ 10:10am
        PeterK said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        having worked in the us and uk and aust.

        Having being a part of transformation , as an outside consultant, what you describe highlights a very significant cultural difference between the cultures.

        That sort of celebrity treatment of a new ceo with spot lights and clapping works in the us but is ridiculed in aust and shunned in the uk. The aussies will laugh at you and the brits will be overly civil.

        Otherwise the transformation progress the same.
        Make big flashy changes, make the easy low hanging fruit changes (which my team would normally identify by asking the staff what needs to happen!), get the money and leave.

        • Roar Rookie

          September 13th 2017 @ 12:47pm
          Don said | September 13th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

          Sell off property assets to “free up investment capital” to fast track expansion.
          Lease back the same assets, often at an above market rate to secure a buyer and maximise the original sale value.

          Record an extraordinary profit on the back of the asset sales and jump ship with a nice bonus based on a multiple of a low budget.
          And get out before the impact of new rent costs kick in.

          Then again, you also have the genius of Alan Joyce doing a massive asset write down at Qantas of $2.6B in one year.

          Amidthe spin and calls of the airline needing govt funding to stop it falling into OS hands and it not being able to compete with international carriers with Aus based costs being too high, the write down became a side notation.

          The next year he miraculously turned the company around and into profit. How couldn’t he?

        • Columnist

          September 13th 2017 @ 4:02pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

          Thanks for the background Peter & Don!

    • September 13th 2017 @ 5:02am
      Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | September 13th 2017 @ 5:02am | ! Report

      Great work, Nicholas!
      I too see the weak link is in the mind of the general. For all his good points he has obvious blind spots and inconsistencies.
      It is all very well to ‘march to the beat of another drum’ but when that inner tune is analysed and found to be illogical and inconsistent if is time for the leader to redirect himself.
      Cheks so far has proved to be resistant to change in his selection logic.

      Rather than a Gordon Ramsey type show I think we need some 7:30 Report or Four Corners style investigative journalism. At the moment we have a very uncritical rugby media.
      Let’s get Cheika onto a Roar Rugby Show with a panel of fearless and insightful people asking questions.

      • Columnist

        September 13th 2017 @ 5:07am
        Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 5:07am | ! Report

        I would choose to take a more optimistic view of the possibilities for Michael Cheika Ken.

        I think he can redirect himself but it will take work – it is the same for all of us… 🙂

        • September 13th 2017 @ 7:02pm
          Fin said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

          Yes Nick,
          To compare Cheika to a poor CEO that comes in and shakes things up then leaves misses the mark on what he is about.
          Cheika has only ever known success in rugby and in business, and in life. No doubt he is being tested as a coach at the moment, but his coaching history is based on turning bottom of the table teams into top of the table teams (and in quick time), and in the cut throat World of professional sport that is SUCCESS by anyone’s definition. As for his business success that is probably not up for discussion on this forum. His life success – well he can speak 4 languages, is happily married and is raising 4 children.

          • Columnist

            September 13th 2017 @ 7:07pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:07pm | ! Report

            ‘It’s a process’ as they like to say nowadays Fin.

            But they’re right – however successful you may have been, there are always new questions being asked of you, which you have to answer.

            Graham Henry had a 90% win rate as a coach when he went to Wales, but when he got back in 2002 he had to reconstruct his coaching style almost from scratch when he became AB head coach.

      • Roar Guru

        September 13th 2017 @ 10:18am
        PeterK said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        I disagree Ken.

        IMO Cheika is being very consistent to his personality and style of being a transformationist, a change maker, and NB highlights this.

        He made a lot of changes to start and it took him far.

        Once transformation was over and things didn’t work as well (and continue to not work as well) he falls back on what he does best, constant transformation. Constant dropping of players and putting in new ones he ‘feels’ have the right stuff, the undiscovered diamonds.

        I am sure Cheika method operandus is more instinctual , emotional than analytical and rational, by the numbers robotic.

        Eddy Jones is the opposite analysis paralysis, and a spreadsheet man to start of with, lacking bonding with players though.

        IMO Cheika needs to recognise this and as a counter bring in his opposite a rationalist , a numbers man, analytical, to balance his method, he needs to listen to the other guys input though. I have to say Larkham seems this sort and if so he needs to listen to him more.

        • September 13th 2017 @ 11:43am
          Akari said | September 13th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          I think you you’re on to something there, PK. It seems to me that Cheika is so wound into being transformational that he has lost the plot. He now seems to be in a rut that the only way he thinks he could recover his coaching reputation is by ‘discovering’ and promoting new gems into the WBs. It’s still not working and it’s never likely to work given his seemingly uninformed selections or omissions.

          Thank you for another informative analysis, Nick.

        • Columnist

          September 13th 2017 @ 4:05pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          I think you’re are right that MC is a man of the gut instinct – and nothing wrong with that in itself. But if your gut keeps taking you in different directions then you need something else to check it at the gate 🙂

          • Roar Guru

            September 14th 2017 @ 1:31am
            Fox said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:31am | ! Report

            Great article Nick and I think you know that agree and some..

            I think the influence of Byrnes is showing more than anything Chieka is doing.

            Same old set piece and back row issues re-emerging – I sometimes get the feeling that there is always a feeling of the ‘ temporary’ about the way the Wallabies rise with Cheika before he makes his usual tactical or selection blunders.

            I mean I get concerned when according to one stat list they missed more tackles in Dunedin than they did in Sydney -still let in 5 tries and we here how the defence was better – it wasn’t that their defence was all that much better at all – that is naive when you loose a good lead half way through the game then lose it again at the end.

            And it was a similar story against South Africa as if the lessons of the previous week were not learned very well from coach or players. What was better was their attack which we saw glimpses of in the second half in Sydney though there was an element of the fortuitous about two of those fisrt three tries but they took their chances you have to say.

            What are your thoughts on Fafita?

            Hansen has come out and said that only Reiko Ioane is quicker in the side when at full pace – not bad for 115kg no6 – Barrett is the quickest off the mark apparently. Big future and with Squire the AB’s have good depth there now.

            Did you see the Boks assistant coach described Sam Cane as the best no7 in world and talked about his immense defensive game? – 25 tackles in Sydney – daylight second on both sides

            • Columnist

              September 14th 2017 @ 4:56pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | September 14th 2017 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

              Fifita certainly showcased himself on that wonderful run didn’t he? But as the saying goes, more tests are needed to see whether he’s a permanent answer at 6. A lot may depend on the balance of the B/R after Read retires.

              • Roar Guru

                September 14th 2017 @ 5:58pm
                Fox said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

                I think Squire will go in there when he retires – the AB’s are using him against SA and that tells you he the first choice at present if Kaino is injured

                Yes Nick that run was one the best I seen from anyone for a while – it was just how far away he was and about SA players couldn’t near him an those monster strides of his just added to whole visual aspect of it. He seemed get quicker and quicker as well rather than hit full pace – incredible to watch

                Imagine that coming at your line head on going at that pace and 115kg – good bloody luck trying to stop him I can tell you.

    • September 13th 2017 @ 5:10am
      Amamteur Hour said | September 13th 2017 @ 5:10am | ! Report

      Great article. Couldn’t agree more with some of the points you make.

      I believe that the principal job of the coach is to select the team, and unfortunately I think that is where Cheika is Not fulfilling his primary function.

      Nic, you can add to that list of yours that McMahon did not play at 8 all year and same goes for Hodge on the wing.

      As far as the forwards go, I think he just gets the back row wrong every week and the problem starts with Hooper.

      Hooper is a wonderful player but he is not a traditional 7 and that means that the backrow balance is thrown out every week to compensate for his inclusion. The same could actually be said for McMahon at the moment.

      Hooper and McMahon should be used like the All Blacks use Ardie Savea, who is their comparable player both in terms of body type and playing style – off the bench against tiring opposition.

      I know Pocock is unavailable this year, but we have other jackals that we could have selected. Colby Faingaa would have been my first chocice or even George Smith if he could have been convinced. We have simply not been getting the turnover ball we have enjoyed in the past and it’s showing.

      And why oh why is Lopeti Timani not being selected? He’d be my first or second forward selected every week with Coleman. He has the size, presence and aggression that we so dearly need and which a player like Ned Hannigan clearly lacks. No disrespect to Ned, I feel sorry for him as he’s clearly not been given time to develop properly at Super level yet.

      My recollection is that we were on track for a grand slam last year until we got manhandled by Ireland in a game that Timani was inexplicably dropped for after being the dominant forward in the preceding tests. You would have thought Cheika would have learned at that point, but alas no.

      My main gripe in the end with Robbie Deans was his selections – O’Connor at 10 and McCabe at 12 for examples. I feel like wer’re back to that unhappy place already.

      And I’m flabbergasted by it. It’s simple. Pick the best available player in the position that they’ve played in all year. And if they become hurt or unavailable, then pick the next best bloke in the position. Don’t pick poor bloody Curtis Rona to play on the wing in his first test against the freakin All Blacks mate!!!!!

      • September 13th 2017 @ 9:28am
        Connor said | September 13th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        Nothing amateur here, Amateur. Bloody good post. I really enjoyed this read.

      • Roar Guru

        September 13th 2017 @ 10:22am
        PeterK said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        Timani isn’t selected because Cheika doesn’t get that ‘vibe’ with him Cheika deals on an instinctual emotional level.
        He gets that ‘vibe’ with Mumm 2.0 though.

        A rationalist would see that when Wallabies had Coleman, Arnold and Timani they manhandled the opposition and won the collision zones and bossed the breakdown.

      • September 13th 2017 @ 11:30am
        twoilms said | September 13th 2017 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        Timani isn’t being selected because he has been bang average. He has the size but none of the aggression what so ever. Hits rucks like a man half his weight, carries poorly. At least he generally makes his tackles. Certainly nothing that would make him first picked. The choice between Hannigan and Timani at the moment is the choice between bad and worse.

        The ‘Hooper isn’t a traditional 7’ garbage has been rubbished that many times. Besides making the only pilfer of the match for the Wallabies he also made a try saving tackle and match saving charge down as well as being the only effective presence at the breakdown along with Coleman.

        Colby Fainga’a…. Jesus

      • Columnist

        September 13th 2017 @ 4:08pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:08pm | ! Report

        Yes quite right. The coaching group spent a lot of time developing Timani throughout 2016 and he was beginning to look the goods – so why wouldn’t you continue with that. That punchy physical triangle of Coleman, Arnold and Timani is WB future and allows other like McMahon and Hooper to blend in the back five.

      • Roar Guru

        September 13th 2017 @ 10:12pm
        Kashmir Pete said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:12pm | ! Report

        Hi Amateur

        Could not concur more in particular with:

        1. Colby Faingaa would have been my first chocice

        2. And why oh why is Lopeti Timani not being selected? He’d be my first or second forward selected every week with
        Coleman. He has the size, presence and aggression that we so dearly need

        3. It’s simple. Pick the best available player in the position that they’ve played in all year. And if they become hurt or unavailable, then pick the next best bloke in the position. Don’t pick poor bloody Curtis Rona to play on the wing in his first test against the freakin All Blacks mate!!!!!


    • September 13th 2017 @ 5:44am
      Scrumpoacher said | September 13th 2017 @ 5:44am | ! Report

      He was exposed as a fraud last year (a year many still think we’d just been unlucky) yet remains employed.

      I sincerely hope players will start to play in positions they should be in. Hanigan too small. Ditch Phipps and Moore too.

      • September 13th 2017 @ 6:14am
        mzilikazi said | September 13th 2017 @ 6:14am | ! Report

        He is not a fraud, IMO, but a coach who has achieved a lot at high level….runner up in the RWC is something that most would see as a high achievement.

        Hannigan is, I believe, not to small…simply too young and not yet fully developed. Phipps…so hated by so many, but you tell me, and justify it, who is a better player that we can select at this stage.

        • Columnist

          September 13th 2017 @ 6:28am
          Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 6:28am | ! Report

          I think Joe Powell should have got more game time in June MZ – maybe then he might at least be a viable bench alternative to Phipps.

          • September 13th 2017 @ 8:16am
            mzilikazi said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:16am | ! Report

            Yes, Nic, I agree fully. The June opportunity to try and give experience to the young and upcoming players was so sadly wasted. Would have been good to have started Powell against, say, Italyi have watched Powell closely, and to me he has a lot of potential, but is perhaps a bit like Hannigan…still young and developing. Certainly a prospect for the future, one would hope.

            • Columnist

              September 13th 2017 @ 8:20am
              Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

              Yes I’d agree Italy would have been the perfect opportunity for Joe Powell to start.

            • September 13th 2017 @ 8:50am
              Fionn said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:50am | ! Report

              I prefer Gordon, Powell, Ruru and Louwrens (pre-injury).

              Ruru first and Powell second were the best Aussie scrumhalfs in 2017 and one of them should be Genia’s backup. Gordon often started for the Tahs above Phipps.

              Phipps has had 60 tests. If he isn’t there yet, he isn’t going to get any better.

          • September 13th 2017 @ 8:58am
            Dontcallmeshirley said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

            But Nick, isn’t Joe Powell in the same position? Too young and not ready?

            • Roar Guru

              September 13th 2017 @ 9:51am
              jeznez said | September 13th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

              There is a difference between giving a young player experience sharing their time with Genia and having a young player start and play 80 minutes.

              One is getting little moments to get a taste and the chance to impact the game while fresh. And the comment from Nick was to give him a start against a lower ranked opposition. Not have him there every time against the best in the world.

              • September 13th 2017 @ 11:22am
                MitchO said | September 13th 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

                Guys, Italy in June was a good time to give young guys a run. IMO it is ok to pick a green half back. You just tell him to keep his head down and pass the ball. A green 6 with poor technique or a green tighthead is different because you are physically in contact and wrestling the whole time.

                That body height in contact has been a problem of the Wallaby team for a long time (eg being held up in the tackle and spanked by Scotland and Ireland) and it is not an experience thing it is a stupidity thing. I was never in danger of Wallaby selection but I know you have to get your body height down and find a technique which allows you to transmit power from your legs. If you are physically able to use poor technique in colts then when you hit grade and you can’t afford to go high anymore you just go low. The adjustment can and should be immediate. Each player has to take responsibility for this. And a senior player should tell his mate to get his body height down. It is not hard.

            • September 13th 2017 @ 12:18pm
              Markus said | September 13th 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

              Different position, different needs.

              We need a blindside flanker who can make tackles, clear rucks and get over the advantage line.
              We need a scrumhalf who, first and foremost, can pass.

              Powell can fulfil the requirements of his position. Hanigan cannot.

            • Columnist

              September 13th 2017 @ 4:11pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

              I would have started JP against Italy and played him off the bench against Fiji and Scotland.

        • September 13th 2017 @ 7:01am
          Kane said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:01am | ! Report

          The game moves on. If you don’t change with it and/or get better then so should you.

          Otherwise we’d still have Larkham starting at 10.

    • Columnist

      September 13th 2017 @ 5:52am
      Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 5:52am | ! Report

      He was exposed as a fraud last year (a year many still think we’d just been unlucky) yet remains employed.

      I think this is a very harsh judgement – however if MC remains inflexible about players like Hanigan and Phipps there will be only one route towards the exit IMO.

      • September 13th 2017 @ 7:07am
        Noodles said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:07am | ! Report

        I think you’re right Nick. Very hard to understand these selections other than an emotional connection to guys who seem to have a go. Phipps is a busy guy but his temperament and accuracy have not got to test standard. Hanigan might be a test plays in three years. I wonder in his case whether cheika is trying to keep the player in Australia. If so it’s a terrible plan better applied to players we need now like fardy.

        • Columnist

          September 13th 2017 @ 7:12am
          Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:12am | ! Report

          Very hard to understand these selections other than an emotional connection to guys who seem to have a go.

          That may turn out to be a very accurate comment Noodles! Phipps is whole-hearted and seems to exercise a positive influence on other players around him – his core skills have to be a lot better than they are to make it all stick…

        • September 13th 2017 @ 9:39am
          Ruckin Oaf said | September 13th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

          Hannigan might be better off with a couple of seasons in the UK or Europe.

          • September 13th 2017 @ 1:31pm
            Connor33 said | September 13th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

            That’s what I reckon.

          • Roar Guru

            September 13th 2017 @ 2:24pm
            taylorman said | September 13th 2017 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

            Gee, I can really se the NH flocking to contract him on that recommendation.

            • September 13th 2017 @ 2:51pm
              Connor33 said | September 13th 2017 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

              Fair. Perhaps another season in SR.

              • Roar Guru

                September 13th 2017 @ 3:22pm
                PeterK said | September 13th 2017 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

                let him go to to the second tier indo pacific comp. He isn’t even good enough for super rugby yet.

          • Columnist

            September 13th 2017 @ 4:12pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

            Interesting to keep tabs on Will Skelton at Saracens – he’ll be getting a lot of game time 🙂

            • September 14th 2017 @ 3:26pm
              cuw said | September 14th 2017 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

              is he injured?

              did not see him against Bath.

    • September 13th 2017 @ 5:56am
      mzilikazi said | September 13th 2017 @ 5:56am | ! Report

      A well chosen time to write this article Nic. Most interesting to read your analysis of critical areas of Ned Hannigan’s game. A fair and accurate assessment, IMO.

      “With little or no real experience at number eight, Jack Dempsey was expected to come on in that role and control ball at the base of a struggling scrum in the last quarter. The ball spurts out at the side, it is seized by Kolisi and Hougaard and all of a sudden Australia are defending desperately in the shadow of their own posts a few moments later!”

      I found that situation an interesting one. First of all the strike for the ball was poor, leaving it sitting at the front of the scrum under the props feet in an unstable scrum. Hougaard did not put any pressure on at all at that point, lying well back and onside…he could have moved up with the ball, and just legally onside. So no pressure there. And Dempsey was not part of a solution then at all, being where he should be.. at No 8.

      The player I focused on and would blame totally is Will Genia…he was asleep. He stands at the back of scrum and does not move in to get a spilling ball immediatly, as he should have done. When he reacts far to late, he has no chance. That is what used to be called a channel 1 ball, and is difficult for the scrumhalf, but is usable by a sharp and alert scrumhalf.

      • Columnist

        September 13th 2017 @ 6:35am
        Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 6:35am | ! Report

        I don’t think it was intended to be channel one ball MZ – Dempsey changes his head position in order to locate the ball as the left side of the Aussie scrum drives forward. So my impression is that Will Genia was not expecting it to emerge suddenly from that channel!?

        • September 13th 2017 @ 8:54am
          mzilikazi said | September 13th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

          Sorry, the way I expressed that is confusing…a channel one ball should be a good strike giving a quick ball that the scrumhalf is expecting.

          • Columnist

            September 13th 2017 @ 4:13pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

            Agreed, and an option you don’t see too much of now that the #8 is forced to pack in between the two second rows!

            • September 13th 2017 @ 7:15pm
              Fin said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:15pm | ! Report

              Why do #8’s sometimes pack between the flanker and lock?

              • Columnist

                September 13th 2017 @ 7:25pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

                So that they can get quick ball Fin. I recall Ammanaki Mafi doing it for Japan against SA at the WC. He’d pack between left flank and lock, they’d go channel one and he’d have the ball out and away before any serious pressure developed.

              • September 13th 2017 @ 7:32pm
                Fin said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:32pm | ! Report

                Did you notice how often Kieran Read handled the ball at the scrum on the weekend? It seemed like that on every all Black scrum feed he got the first touch of the ball. Have the AB’s consistently played off #8 at scrum this season or is that evolving?

              • Columnist

                September 13th 2017 @ 7:33pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

                It’s a way of creating an extra attacking number Fin. 8 picks, 9 can move further out and suddenly it’s more difficult for the D to take their intended receivers!

        • Roar Guru

          September 13th 2017 @ 10:26am
          PeterK said | September 13th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

          sure but genia was not being alert , he wasn’t paying attention.

          Surely knowing the oz scrum was under pressure all game he should be more on the ball, expect the unexpected as it were.

          • September 13th 2017 @ 11:16am
            Dave_S said | September 13th 2017 @ 11:16am | ! Report

            Exactly, about 50% of WB scrum feeds don’t go to plan, the unexpected is very much to be expected

            • September 13th 2017 @ 11:43am
              MitchO said | September 13th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

              Playing 8 behind a struggling scrum is a difference between a good 8 and an 8 who isn’t good yet. It is so hard to do well. A terrible suggestion is to put Higgers at 8 even if you think his game is not quite up to it in other arears because we don’t actually have any experienced top level 8s in Aussie rugby. Personally I would just park the lovely bulk of Timani there and keep slapping him so he never lets off his work ethic around the paddock.

              • Roar Guru

                September 13th 2017 @ 1:32pm
                PeterK said | September 13th 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

                Higgs is a very good 8 , he played most of his career at 8 for reds and rebels.
                Very good picking the ball up on a retreating scrum.

                Timani has played hardly any 8 and thus would be more suited to 6 in terms of scrum position.

              • Columnist

                September 13th 2017 @ 4:15pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

                Personally I would just park the lovely bulk of Timani there and keep slapping him so he never lets off his work ethic around the paddock.

                Well phrased, although I also feel SH has had plenty of experience to be able to handle 8 too…

              • September 14th 2017 @ 2:03pm
                MitchO said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

                I have not seen much of Higgers but I am not convinced he has had time to be a failure at test level. I don’t think Timani has been given the opportunity to fail either. Higgers looked a good prospect when he was captain of Melbourne. But Cheika seems to respect Higgers even less than Timani so it looks like Higgers is consigned to the Cheika scrap heap and will not be back unless or until we get a new coach.

                In short I am happy for Higgers to get a run. He doesn’t need to be Kieran Read he just needs to be the best option we have at 6 or 8 for this season. Better to put a substandard but complete player out there just so all the links in the chain are complete.

              • Columnist

                September 14th 2017 @ 4:37pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | September 14th 2017 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

                The issue with Higginbotham (I’m guessing) is age – as he’s now the wrong side of thirty and MC prob doesn’t see a future there unless he plays outstandingly well – but I still think he’s more strings to his bow than Hanigan right now…

            • Columnist

              September 13th 2017 @ 4:14pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | September 13th 2017 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

              ! 😀

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