Michael Cheika has repeatedly told the Australian rugby community about how much he cares about the Wallabies, and with the commitment and passion he displays in public, there is every reason to believe him.
However, the Wallabies’ Saturday night loss against the Pumas on the Gold Coast again displayed the sad fact that none of Cheika’s passion has made a lick of difference, because since the 2015 Rugby World Cup he has taken the Wallabies backwards.
The best examples of this are an uncharacteristic series of home losses against teams the Wallabies should have beaten. These include:
The first ever three-Test series loss to England and the first home three-nil whitewash against any team since the Springbok tour of 1971.
The home loss against Scotland in 2017, this was not a midweek game with second string team like Robbie Dean’s 2012 loss in Newcastle, but a full test with his best players onboard.
A series loss against Ireland in 2018, the first home series loss against that team since 1979.
And on Saturday night the home loss to Argentina for the first time since 1983.
This comes on top of generally miserable results both home and away against Tier 1 opponents, with a solitary post World Cup win against an under-strength All Blacks team in the 2017 dead rubber in Brisbane the only real positive.
The standard of the current Wallabies is not all Michael Cheika’s fault, as the state of rugby administration in Australia has made coaching the Wallabies a tough gig for a very long time, but Cheika’s record simply cannot be ignored.
It doesn’t need to be dissected, it has been debated thousands of times, but it should now be abundantly clear that he is simply cannot keep up in the international coaching competition.
However, being the smart businessman he is, Cheika negotiated a four-year contract with former Rugby Australia CEO Bill Pulver during the post-2015 World Cup final euphoria. It has been suggested in the media that paying out Cheika’s contract prior to the 2019 World Cup would be cost prohibitive for Rugby Australia.
This is where Cheika’s own judgement, values and care for his team need to come into play. As much as he might desperately want to take the Wallabies to another World Cup, surely, he can see that with the way he is coaching this team, it would take a stroke of luck to rival Steven Bradbury’s 2002 winter Olympics speed skating win for the team to win?
Surely, he can see that the Wallabies risk being ejected from the competition early, in a humiliation to rival or exceed the 2007 quarterfinal loss to England?
Rugby is the only genuinely international, high profile and regularly played winter sport that Australia has traditionally been good at and at their best, the Wallabies have been a focal point of pride and unity for the entire Australian nation.
The Wallabies are a significant part of our national face to the world, displaying what Australians would like to be thought of as: tough, passionate and competitive, but also fair and courteous.
Our current crop of Wallabies has the potential to be great representatives in that regard, but they can’t play that role if they are being coached so badly that they look like fools when they play rugby.
I reckon it is time for Michael Cheika to have a think about whether he wants to be the bloke who is remembered for driving the Wallabies into the dirt, because of personal ambitions that are beyond him. If he was to resign as Wallabies coach, it would allow Rugby Australia to pay another experienced coach, which can only improve the Wallabies’ chances of performing respectably in the next World Cup.
Would there be any guarantees of success? No, but any chance of success is better than no chance, which is effectively what the Wallabies have now.
Cheika is still an outstanding, elite club level coach so it isn’t like he would have to end his association with rugby, he would get a gig somewhere. He might even get another crack at the international big league with the benefit of a few years more experience, like his old mate Eddie Jones has with Japan and England.
It is well and truly time for Michael Cheika to demonstrate those other Australian values of selflessness and humility and clear the way for another coach to have a go at making the Wallabies great again. Plenty of fans think a lot of what he did in Australian rugby up until and including the 2015 World Cup final and would think even more of him if he did the right thing now.