In two years’ time the Wallabies will be in the midst of their campaign for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Make no mistake about it winning the Web Ellis Cup has been Michael Cheika’s ultimate goal from the moment the whistle blew on the Wallabies 34-17 loss to the rugby powerhouse that is the All Blacks.
The Wallabies lost a raft of experience after 2015 and Cheika has effectively been in a ‘rebuilding phase’ ever since, blooding young Wallabies like clockwork. In fact 2016 saw 13 new Wallabies put on the famous green and gold and 2017 has already seen 11 new faces line up, and you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a few more over the end of year tour.
This policy of building depth is now starting to pay off with depth growing in positions where the Wallabies looked thin in 2015 like the second row, back row and the centres.
Players such as Adam Coleman, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Karmichael Hunt and Jordan Uelese are prime examples of how backing players to come into the fold and perform can pay dividends for a squad.
Ideally for some of the younger players such as Ned Hanigan there would be more time to build their experience at Super Rugby level before being thrust into the international arena but due to the state of Australian rugby the Wallabies simply just don’t have the talent in some positions to be careful about their development.
Cheika has not just been focusing on bringing in new talent to the Wallabies set up on the field but he has also had a focus on bringing in talent off it with his coaching staff.
Snapping up Mick Byrne as skills coach only a few months after leaving the New Zealand setup in 2016 was a major coup and having both Stephen Larkham and Nathan Grey move to full-time roles with the Wallabies at the close of the 2017 Super Rugby season can only be a good thing (despite some warranted criticism of their coaching structures and styles).
Cheika has always known what he wants and has had the ability to get buy in from players and staff in his vision, which makes the unexpected loss of Mario Ledesma from the Wallabies set up so hard.
Mario has been the experienced and skilled scrum coach that the wallabies needed and somehow turned a scrum that was laughable into a solid platform, surprising more than a few northern hemisphere opponents, in the 2015 World Cup.
Cheika was apparently “devastated” at the news of Mario leaving which is understandable because it seemed he had finally got his coaching staff locked down for the build up to 2019. But the good news is that Mario has already imparted a great scrimmaging technique on the Wallabies front row and there is still enough time to carefully select this successor.
The final piece of Cheika’s world cup puzzle was building a strong identity and culture for the Wallabies. This is perhaps the hardest thing for a coach to do in a squad but is of paramount importance. Without players believing in the teams identity and being open and accountable to each other you could have all the talent in the world but still fail. In essence this is addressed by the old John McGrath saying “a champion team will always beat a team of champions” and a champion team is made from within.
Cheika has been hard at work developing a core playing identity, a strong work ethic and a pattern of individual accountability. Nowhere was this more evident than what happened at half time in the Wallabies game against the Pumas in Canberra on the 16th of September.
After going in for oranges at 13-10 down the Wallabies looked like a team out of sorts, they lacked urgency and accuracy and were bullied about the part by the Pumas pack. Just as Cheika was gearing up to tare shreds of the Wallabies he saw the playing group step up and take the lead, in particular Will Genia who apparently spat fire and brimstone at his forward pack.
This did the trick with the Wallabies manning up in the second half and coming away with a 45-20 win.
Since the Canberra win Genia has come out praising the Wallabies culture as the best he has ever seen.
“It’s the best environment I’ve been a part of in the time I’ve been in a Wallaby group, everyone has a buy in and say in how we do things” said Genia.
“Everyone holds each other accountable as far as the standards, it’s a really good group to be a part of.
“The biggest thing I enjoy is that guys want to get better and improve.”
If this is anything to go by then this can be nothing but positive for the Wallabies group leading up to the 2019 World Cup. With depth growing and a solid coaching staff with a clear vision maybe Wallabies fans have a cause for hope in two years’ time.