Michael Cheika isn’t a polarising figure. He’s detested by pretty much everyone. Yet does he really deserve to be held in such contempt – has all balance and objectivity been lost or is Cheika really that bad?
Cheika remains the only coach to win both the Super Rugby and European Championships.
He guided the Wallabies to the Rugby World Cup final in 2015. Their performance against England in the pool stages was arguably the best they had ever played until a certain Test match in Perth almost four years later.
But still Cheika is disliked and disrespected.
The way he took over the Wallabies certainly didn’t help his cause. Nobody will ever really know what went on but it was a shameful chapter in Australian Rugby. Perhaps the most shameful.
I say perhaps because we have the Western Force and Israel Folau affairs to consider. No matter where you sit on those issues, they must rank near the top of sporting foul-ups globally, not just nationally.
Cheika has had to contend with an environment not conducive to performance, brought on by poor administration and cancerous decision-making.
Australian rugby royalty played its part in these gross failures.
In fact, the only decent rugby administrator any Wallabies coach has had this century was John O’Neill, who happened to be about between the halcyon years of 1995 to 2003.
That lack of support off the field can’t be underestimated but there is no doubt that Cheika has struggled with a perception he has helped to cultivate and must accept responsibility for.
Cheika’s road to public enemy number one has been littered with meltdowns in stadiums, temper tantrums in the coach’s box and explosive press conferences.
Arguably, it is this perceived lack of ‘class’ that has contributed most to his unpopularity.
However, Cheika can’t be compared to Bernard Tomic or Nick Kyrgios. He has a genuine passion for the game of rugby and detests losing. He doesn’t coach for the money but rather the love of it.
If the Wallabies were failing repeatedly without Cheika losing control of his emotions, it would be a far worse thing.
Was there anything sadder than a dignified but destroyed Stuart Lancaster sitting broken in his press conferences quietly shuffling to oblivion? Unfortunately for Cheika, he refuses to break but struggles to bend and keep his cool.
His selections have often been mystifying but for the most are grounded in misguided loyalty and a lack of leadership further up the chain.
Expensive players failing to execute basic skills have repeatedly let Cheika down. Passing, catching and tackling are learnt at grassroots, even tweeting it seems is learnt at home and church.
Rugby AU failed to insist on a selection panel until this year, which allowed blind loyalty to get in the way of emotionless selection.
Now Michael O’Connor and Scott Johnson are balancing Cheika out, we suddenly have a selection criteria that appears to be implementable and working.
Many point to Steve Hansen as a shining example, but his job was made easy by good governance and easier still by the culture he inherited. Keeping on course and calm is easy when you are winning.
All other coaches have lost their cool at one point or another. Perhaps only Joe Schmidt has maintained his composure flawlessly and perhaps that is why he is a favourite to coach the All Blacks one day.
Ultimately, if Cheika gets the Wallabies to the World Cup semi-finals, he will remain unpopular but also will have passed muster. If he wins the thing, most of this will be forgotten