A long, long time ago I said I don’t rate Michael Cheika as a national coach.
It was obvious from the start the type of coach he is, but that opinion was against the tide, and many people were happy with the subsequent 2015 World Cup result. That was an aberration, though, and Australian rugby has suffered dreadfully in the four years that have followed.
The truth is that since the reign of Rod Macqueen Australian rugby has been able to average only around a 50 per cent winning rate, world cups excluded. That was before Cheika. Outside of world cups and with Cheika we fall to around 45 per cent, yet unlike the others he wasn’t moved on until he resigned after the national side’s quarter-finals exit at the weekend.
Australian fans have wondered aloud since that tournament why our team has been unable to string together any sort of continuity. Why haven’t we been able to win back-to-back games? How can we flog the No. 1 side in the world and then get towelled up the next week? Was it the talent?
The sad reality is that Australian rugby has lost its way, and not just within the Wallabies. Michael Cheika was only a symptom.
In the face of ever-declining results and particularly after only four Test wins in 2018, it was time for Rugby Australia to sit down and truly assess where we were at. RA had a choice: stick with Cheika or dump him. I opined some time ago that they would stick with him and bring in some outside help. If they chose to stick with him, however, they needed to get to the bottom of what was going on in order to arrest the slide.
The problem is, though, that the people Rugby Australia brought in came too late and neither they nor the administration have asked a very important question
I struggle to recall any coach in any sport, let alone the coach of a national team, who openly states he does not analyse the opposition, much less repeats that statement. This is either willful blindness or extraordinary arrogance. If the All Blacks analyse the opposition, don’t you think it is prudent to do that also?
If you focus only on your own game strengths, you run the risk that the opposition is stronger in the same area or able to defeat your strategy easily. If that is the case, you are wasting your time, as the result is almost foregone.
You might find your strategy is running into a brick wall and you are effectively nullified – then you lose. If that’s the result time and again, you would sit down and work out why and how you were neutralised by the opposition. In other words you analyse the opposition.
If your tactics rely upon certain outcomes within the match and those outcomes aren’t met, you again need to sit down and work out why.
Were you outcoached? Did the opposition work you out? How did they work you out? What did they do to nullify your tactics?
Clearly and by his own admission Michael Cheika didn’t analyse the opposition. Is this the reason Wallabies supporters have been scratching our heads at ‘dumb rugby’? Surely after the disasters of 2018 you would have sit down and work out why.
It’s basic. If you start with plan A and the opposition stops you cold, you work out how they stopped you rather than turning over players because you want them to try to execute plan A better, faster or stronger.
Why weren’t we – and this includes Rugby Australia – the country with a supposed long line of rugby ‘smarts’, not sitting down and analyzing what is happening? Are the comments from opposition coaches about how smart Australia play rugby just a mocking assessment?
Why wasn’t the coach considering if plan A would actually work against each and every team they face?
An even more astounding question is, though, whether anyone in Rugby Australia was asking this. Was Scott Johnson wondering? Was Rod Kafer? Was the only person asking the right questions Stephen Larkham?
It is incredible and sad because, if true, Rugby Australia have not only wasted years of opportunities but players have also had their careers affected.
I for one have little sympathy for the outbound Michael Cheika, but in truth I see no point in tearing him down. I think he should be left alone quietly now that he’s fallen on his sword.
I only hope the truly hard questions are asked of those in the corridors at Rugby Australia who, instead of reeling it all in when they had the chance, just swept it all under the carpet.