The 37-18 thumping Eddie Jones’s England dished out to Michael Cheika’s Wallabies at Twickenham seals a record number of successive wins by England over Australia, another dubious record that Michael Cheika has collected as Wallabies coach since 2016.
This record includes series losses at home to Ireland and England, first losses at home for many decades to Scotland and Argentina, and the end of a decade-long winning streak against Wales.
It has all been capped off with the Wallabies’ lowest ever World Rugby ranking of seventh in the world. Not winning the Bledisloe Cup for a 16th year in a row, no longer seems like the Wallabies’ biggest problem.
Yet Jones came to a passionate defence of Cheika as coach, blaming the Australian rugby administration for the Wallabies’ woes. This follows similar endorsements of Cheika by All Blacks rival Steven Hanson and his former assistant coach, turned Argentina coach, Mario Ledesema.
Surely the chorus of foreign coaches wanting Cheika to stay is the loudest indication that he should go? These blokes want to win the World Cup next year and Jones, Hanson and Ledesema sound to me like they are trying to stack the odds in their favour, by doing everything that they can to ensure that a credible threat from the Wallabies does not eventuate!
Just how credible a threat the Wallabies really can be under the right coach slipped out during the English commentary of the game at Twickenham. One of the commentators, it may have been Clive Woodward, was carrying on with the sort of mealy-mouthed back-handed complements that the English are best at, that inspire Australians a raging desire to see the Wallabies bash the Poms back into 2015.
The commentary was along the lines of how the Wallabies have always been weak up front, but that they have players of individual brilliance who scoring a try in a flash. The Wallabies duly obliged by having their scrum marched backwards around the field, but having Israel Folau being set up for a couple of great tries.
The Pommy commentary gave insight into the reason why Cheika’s rivals are so keen to see him stay. The Wallabies only need an incremental improvement across the board to rugby basics – set piece, breakdown, defence, discipline, catch and pass, and kicking – before they will be a team that can ruin the World Cup for any of the contenders.
They don’t need to worry as much about training to score tries when they have so many players who naturally find ways do that, they just need to establish the platform for it to happen.
The problem is that Cheika doesn’t seem to have the coaching ability to achieve incremental gains across the board. The lineout has been bad all year and the scrum ok, but at Twickenham the lineout had improved but the scrum was rubbish. T
he defence might be good one game, but the Wallabies keep losing ball at the offensive breakdown. His selections are bizarre. The list goes on.
Former Wallabies commentating have as much, the team addresses one problem and another arises. It suggests that Cheika’s training regime is reactive, going from one band aid fix to another but not enough smart predicting, planning and prioritisation.
Whatever the case Cheika’s methods simply aren’t working, which is undoubtedly why his rivals are keen for him to stay employed.
It is probably too late for any new coach to rework the Wallabies game to make them real World Cup contenders, but given that Cheika doesn’t have a coaching system nailed down, surely a new coach who is focused on the basics couldn’t get them a more respectable result?
An honourable showing might sound like an unambitious objective to Australian rugby fans, but it is important for nobody more than the players.
Despite how upset the Wallabies fans are, if the team does badly in 2019, it won’t be the end of the World for fans. The Wallabies will get a new coach, surely Rugby Australia will be forced to have a rethink about how things are done and it is likely that they will improve towards 2023.
However, this will undoubtedly be the only or last occasion that many of the Wallabies players get to play in a World Cup.
Nobody as talented and who works as hard as these blokes do to get into the jumper of a team with the proud tradition of the Wallabies, wants to be remembered as having been a part of one of the worst squads either. But that is the legacy that they are being led towards by Michael Cheika.
That is the saddest part of it all.