After the third Bledisloe on the weekend, Michael Cheika did seem to insinuate that the All Blacks/NZRU management ordered the New Zealand Herald to draw him as a clown. On the face of it, that is a bit nuts.
But to hear those words, in the context of the press conference, and then extrapolate them to mean what Cheika literally said, is absurd. It also lacks empathy. As a journalist/reporter/writer/whatever, getting what’s in your head out as an argument that stands up to criticism is what you do for a day job. Cheika’s just a rugby coach.
Anyway, let’s go straight to the source.
After you watch the press conference in full, it becomes quite clear that the Clown cartoon is, excuse the pun, a complete sideshow. Cheika says it himself at 3:39 “It’s no big deal, really”.
Ok, he (and Stephen Moore, who’s sitting beside him) do express their disappointment with the cartoon – Moore says he found it disrespectful to the jersey – but again that’s beyond the point.
The thrust of Cheika’s argument is that the All Blacks management demand respect from the Aussies, while not sending any in return, to point that Cheika rightly feels they’re disrespecting the team. While the All Blacks mightn’t have told the NZ Herald to draw the cartoon, in Cheika’s eyes that’s just another straw on the collapsed camel’s back.
The set piece of Cheika’s ‘Clowngate’ rant is the whole hotel bug episode, and the Wallabies coach is quite right to fume about that.
To recap, the All Blacks found, a bug in their hotel on the Monday before the first Bledisloe game. They didn’t release the news about the bug until the Saturday morning before the game.
Suddenly, before the biggest game of the year, the Wallabies are having their preparation disrupted over this bug. Not too long after it was revealed, allegations were following that the Wallabies had bugged the All Blacks.
If the ABs had the best intentions at heart, they would have surely foreseen that news of this sort would immediately lead to allegations that the Wallabies did it. Quite rightly, in Cheika’s eyes this is slander by subterfuge.
In the presser, Cheika himself says (5:52):
“The thing that really got me offside was the accusation that we tried to bug them…they had that the whole week…for me, that’s what show a lack of disrespect.”
You can now see Cheika’s internal logic, and it makes sense.
On top of that, there’s other things frustrating Cheika vis-a-vis the WBs-ABs relationship: the fact that Hansen dropped his two cents on what he thought of the Eddie Jones-Cheika relationship during England’s tour to June; the continuing mystery as to how the ABs correctly guessed the backline re-shuffle before it the squad was released; and how the ABs also seem to unpick most of Australia’s lineouts.
(And there’s also the fact that the NSW Police only came out yesterday to say they don’t consider the All Blacks as the planters of the bug, two months after the story first came to light) – there’s chicken left on this bone – Ed.
Then There’s All The Gracious Comments
Everywhere else in the press conference – including throughout his rant – Cheika is quick to say that the Wallabies have to own their mistakes, and that the All Blacks are a very good side.
“We know that New Zealand are very good on turnover counterattack,” Cheika says, “And we made a lot of good play then turned the ball over and allowed them to score, that’s it, simple. So we gotta own that first before thinking about the turning point.”
While not gracious (but not bitter either), Cheika reacts to the question of the Speight no-try with this:
“I obviously can’t say anything, because they [World Rugby’s naughty step committee] have you by the throat. I’ve just never seen shepherding from behind before.”
All of this, however, is lost because Cheika wants to let it be known that he thinks the ABs are dicks.
4/4 For Cheika and WBs to accept this behaviour is not respect or grace, it’s passive victimhood. Aus should be glad they’re standing up
— Matt Rowley (@MattRowley) October 23, 2016
Don’t Even Mention The Richetty Grub Cartoon
And this is another thing. Bringing up the Richetty Grub is a deliberate confusion.
Cheika had nothing to do with it, nor any other tabloid cartoon thing – or that time when Stephen Hoiles annoyed Eddie Jones earlier this year. In fact, if you asked Cheika about the cartoon – has anyone, actually? – he’d probably, given his previous lines about respect, say he doesn’t like it.
The media just loves pointing out shit like that because a) hypocrisy and whataboutery sells newspapers, and b) the media loves talking about the media above all else.
Just A ‘Lil Bit
Perhaps Cheika is a bit soft – maybe it’s all a bit of fun, mind games and all that. (But then again, a couple of Australians drank out of a boot and wore a country’s flag on their bum, and then got thrown out of that country, so maybe some people are really keen on symbolic respect?)
Maybe he’s also a bit naive. As he and Moore insinuated, and as Rugby Reg said on the GAGR Show, you can’t really win taking on the press. With the media wind on both sides of the dutch mostly blowing against him, perhaps just to maintain face Cheika should have just pokerfaced the whole press conference.
But you know what, maybe it’s ok he’s letting his feelings be known. Cheika’s just asking for the same respect he shows to the other teams. While he’s a passionate man, and, uh, has given the glazier industry a leg-up a few times, he justifiably feels put aside.
As Iain Payten wrote in his piece for the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday: “One player said of Cheika yesterday: ‘He’s not the lunatic people think. He says things emotionally but I don’t doubt for a minute all of this was to say to New Zealand: We are not scared of you.'”