Should Cheika go? A Wallaby Coaching analysis of the Pro Era - Green and Gold Rugby
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Should Cheika go? A Wallaby Coaching analysis of the Pro Era

Should Cheika go? A Wallaby Coaching analysis of the Pro Era

The twittersphere, facebookland, our forums (and, I’m guessing, in the real world) have been awash with ‘coach-chat’ this week on the heels of yet another comprehensive loss to the All Blacks. With Wallaby boss Michael Cheika set to coach his 50th test this weekend, arguments have raged as to whether or not his job is in question, based largely on his low win percentage (currently sitting at 51.02%).

There are any number of arguments, statistics and opinions thrown around when these discussions take place. I’ve seen perspectives varying from comparisons with former coaches, the quality of the opposition and, curiously, the number of rookies he’s selected.

As I read through some of these it got me asking my own questions, and questioning some of the perspectives. Instead of countering haphazardly I thought I’d do some research myself and look back at all the Wallaby coaches in the professional era (since 1996). As I dug deep, I got sucked into some sort of vortex of analysis with constant questioning of relevance. I’ve decided to try to share these findings with readers of Green and Gold Rugby to provide some basis for more informed discussion.

A lot of what I have captured is fact based from relatively accessible match information. Additional information has taken me back to my own rugby library of biographies and record books. Then of course there’s a healthy dose of theorising and thumb sucking.

In the end, there’s a chunk of information for you to consume, hopefully in somewhat accessible forms.  I’ve tried to stay neutral in my opinions, and it’s fair to say my own perspectives changed through this process.

SUCCESSION STORIES

Cranky Eddie Jones at post-match press-conference. Not impressed with Stephen Hoiles' question

Eddie Jones – a smooth ascent. A bumpier descent.

Following on from the iconic 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa and a Super League breakout in rugby league, 1996 would see the traditionally amateur game of rugby become professional.  Despite the Wallabies bombing out in the Quarter Finals at the RWC, incumbent coach Bob Dwyer remained determined to keep the role and oversee the dawn of the professional era.  He would be challenged by NSW coach Greg Smith and Queensland coach John Connolly. Dwyer had lost favour due to the RWC early exit as well as his purported involvement in a rebel rugby competition. Connolly was favoured as QLD had won Super 10 titles in 1994 and 1995.  Ultimately the ARU Council (5 votes NSW, 3 votes QLD, 1 each from ACT, Victoria, WA, SA, Tasmania and NT) announced that Smith was the coach and pandemonium ensued.

A couple of years later and the Wallabies were again returning from South Africa following a significant loss (61-22 in Pretoria). Smith told the media at the airport in Sydney that he intended to fight for his position, and at least see out the contract that ended after that year’s European tour. However two days later he announced his resignation, having been convinced it was right by CEO John O’Neill. With Connolly still without the support required, Rod MacQueen was the standout candidate due to his work with the newly professional Brumbies outfit.

Towards the end of 2000, MacQueen starting to discuss with O’Neill his wish to stand down the following year. McQueen wanted out after the British and Irish Lions series, however JON insisted he stay until the completion of the Rugby Championship. MacQueen got his way. Once again the new coach would come from the Brumbies with Eddie Jones having guided them to their inaugural championship in 2001, following on from their runners up spot in 2000.

Jones himself lasted until the end of 2005 before he was sacked (this time by Gary Flowers) even before a review of the disappointing Northern Hemisphere tour had completed. A run of eight losses in the final nine tests of the year did not help his cause.  Waratah coach Ewen McKenzie declared an early interest in the position with David Nucifora also considered. Eventually both McKenzie and Nucifora withdraw their interest and John Connolly was appointed to the role he had sort actively almost a decade before.

Connolly’s initial contract was for two years which would see him through to the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Following another early exit from that campaign, Connolly stood down within days of the Quarter final loss to England. Within a couple of months the ARU had appointed a foreign coach for the first time ever as former All Black and highly successful Crusaders coach, Robbie Deans, was announced as the new top dog on a four year contract. Other candidates for the job included McKenzie, Nucifora, Lawrie Fisher, Alan Jones and John Muggleton.

After 74 tests and a little over six years in the job, in 2013 Deans ‘stood down’ following a 2-1 series loss to the British and Irish Lions.  As with Eddie Jones taking over McQueen, Deans’s successor was obvious with Ewen McKenzie finally getting the gig having led the QLD Reds to a Premiership in 2011 followed by two further finals appearances.

Despite waiting for the job for so long, come 2014 McKenzie’s time would be up relatively quickly and in controversial circumstances. Details aren’t public and rumours remain rife, regardless McKenzie’s Wallaby coaching career ended about 14 months after it started. Ironically his replacement was just as obvious a selection as had he had been. Michael Cheika had experienced success in Europe but the timing of his Championship with the Waratahs allowed the ARU (under Bill Pulver) an easy option in finding a quick replacement.

A lot of that may well have been well known to you, but it’s worth revisiting to understand the flow of the Head Coaching position, the decisions behind their appointment as well as some of the names involved along the way. Now let’s check out some figures.

JUST THE STATS

Let’s start by looking at overall win percentages for each coach:

 

Pro Era Coach Wins

Professional Era Wallaby Coach Win Loss Stats

Moving on from the startling fact we’ve won less than two-thirds of our tests in the professional era, there are no other real surprises here. MacQueen’s record is outstanding. I suspect some may be surprised to see Connolly’s name in 2nd spot and we can look at more detail there a little later.

What stands out to me is that our three most recent coaches are at the three bottom on the list. This seems to indicate an overall decline in performance (achievement?) of the Wallabies over the last decade. Or perhaps it is just that the MacQueen period was an absolute outlier on the back of the early adoption of professional high performance mixed with a freaky number of generational players (Eales, Horan, Larkham, etc).

One of the recent arguments against Cheika has been that his success at the 2015 RWC (finishing runner-up) taints his numbers due to the easy lead up games.  To investigate this, let’s separate those stats.

Coach stats RWC separated

Professional Era Wallaby Coach Win Loss Stats (RWC isolated)

Ok, so worryingly, Australia’s overall win percentage outside of Rugby World Cups is not much over 50%. We are barely breaking even.

Looking in more detail, MacQueen once again rules the roost winning three quarters of his games sans RWCs. Smith never made it to a RWC so his overall percentage puts him in 2nd place with Connolly’s short reign producing some impressive numbers for third.

Deans and Jones are tracking around the overall Wallaby average while Link’s RWC-free stats sit second last. Significantly, when you take out that RWC 15 campaign, Cheika’s sits at a staggering 45.24% win percentage.

One of the proponents for change on twitter is the account @Subbiesbattler . One of his (I assume???) tweets (see below) was further to the above theory about matches against lower tier teams and their impact on overall stats.  The numbers below indicate that a larger percentage of Cheika’s games are against teams not in the Rugby Championship or 6 Nations. Cheika’s numbers are actually lower than McQueen’s. McQueen’s numbers however may be boosted by his teams requirement to actually have to qualify for the 1999 RWC following the disaster in 1995. As a result we had to play Fiji, Samoa and Tonga in late 1998.  Additionally, McQueen played Argentina four times before they were in the Rugby Championship.

As an aside, Dean’s numbers are bloody low considering the number of tests he coached. If anything it shows how damn tough his 2011 RWC battle was and perhaps paints his overall numbers in a different light.

Let me take this a step further and look at each coach’s performance against the top teams.  I’ve done the same as the above and basically included all Rugby Championship teams (including Argentina, even when not in the RC) and 6 Nations team (ditto Italy).

Top Tier coaching

Professional Era Wallaby Coach Win Loss Stats (v Rugby Championship & 6 Nation teams)

The pattern continues. MacQueen – outstanding. His performances against the All Blacks is incredible. Smith and Connolly are both right up there, although they only have one win between them against New Zealand. Dean’s stats jump him up a bit, built largely on the back of some excellent wins against the Boks (including three in the Republic), a huge run against Wales and many more games against Italy than I can remember.

McKenzie’s stats are again towards the bottom, significantly all of his tests were against Rugby Championship or 6 Nation teams. Cheika, again, bottoms out the table with a 45% win rate. One thing that does need to be taken into account here is the undeniable resurgence of Northern Hemisphere rugby in recent years. While England have usually been strong, with some ups and downs (and laughable touring teams), the rest of the home nations have lifted their game dramatically in recent years and Cheika’s stats suffer because of it.  Across the coaches against these 6 Nations teams, the lowest win rate other than Cheika is Eddie Jones at 63% (he had a real issue with England! Ironic hey?). Everyone else was around 73% and above.

ROOKIE WATCH

Will Skelton - Combined States old boy

Will Skelton – one of Link’s picks

Another perspective on the coaching argument this week has been their willingness to bring in young guys, or rookies. I am not convinced that this is a legitimate justification for judging a coach, but did some research regardless.

Basically I looked at the number of test debutants under each coach as a percentage of the number of tests they coached.  Greg Smith comes out on top with 19 rookies in his 19 tests, which fits with his reputation has someone who fiddled with the team excessively.   He laid the ground work for the RWC99 success by launching the likes of Steve Larkham, Toutai Kefu, Owen Finegan, Andrew Blades, Matt Cockbain and David Giffen on the world. He also had a few one test wonders in Mark Bell, Cam Blades and Filie Finau.

The rest all hover around the 68% mark (for every test there is .68 of a debutant….or whatever..). MacQueen had some pretty solid talent already before bringing in some bit part players, still crucial to his success, such as Jeremy Paul, Nathan Grey, Mark Connors, Rod Kafer, Elton Flatley and Tom Bowman. After winning a World Cup he also gave some young tyros their first start in George Smith, Phil Waugh and Stirling Mortlock.

Eddie’s rookie stats are of similar regularity, but perhaps a little more quirky. He was the first to really get behind the leaguie poaching strategy with Wendell Sailor, Matt Rogers and Lote Tuqiri. Jones also picked Stephen Hoiles, Matt Giteau and Tatafu Polota-Nau from relative obscurity to tour with the Wallabies with limited other top level footy experience.

Connolly’s short reign saw a lower rookie rate, which is to be expected, but the strategy was clear. Fix the scrum and forward dominance – which was contrary somewhat to how Eddie wanted his pack to play. Rodney Blake, Tai McIsaacs, Guy Shepherdson and Benn Robinson were all given a shot that first year, as was the Kefu-like Wycliff Palu.

Deans’ debuted players at a similar rate to McQueen and Eddie but, after a flirtation with leaguies (Ryan Cross and Timana Tahu anyone?) he started to focus on youth. Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, David Pocock, Kurtley Beale were all thrown into the test ring as teenagers.  James Slipper followed soon after at just 21 – rare for a prop. Deans did have some making up to do considering he had lost Larkham, Gregan and Latham to retirement the year before he started.

McKenzie’s rate was similar to the others, with a strong Brumbie focus early on (he threw debuts to Matt Toomua, Scott Sio, Scott Fardy, Nick White and Tevita Kuridrani in his first test).  He also gave Bernard Foley his first test cap and saw some early potential in Will Skelton.

Cheika’s ‘rookie rate’s is actually second only to Smith at 73%. There is no doubting much comes at a time when Australian Rugby is struggling to keep up with the foreign market, particularly in France and Japan. It has necessitated somewhat of a churn of players as the likes of Sean McMahon, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Lopeti Timani signed OS contracts shortly after their test debut.

One thing about Cheika is that he has been granted almost carte blanche in terms of selection.  Picking overseas contracted stars such as Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell, calling up returning players such as Dean Mumm and Matt Toomua, even picking players who hadn’t played rugby in the country (Marika Koroibete). Cheika has been given a  freedom in selections that few, if any coaches, have been granted previously. No doubt much of this is the very global and professional nature of rugby these days and the challenges Australia faces to produce and keep quality players.

LION TAMERS

Cuthbert carves it

The Lions Series of 2013 – a sliding doors moment?

I have left out of the above stats analysis any mention of the British and Irish Lions tours. The nature of the scheduling of these tours means that only two coaches got a shot against them. MacQueen snagged a 2-1 series win in 2001 as his swansong and Deans suffered a 1-2 series loss in 2013, which was also his swansong.

The isolation of these tours means they are tough to compare with other eras. One thing I will say is how moments matter. Remember back in 2001 in the closing stages of that third test? Series tied 1-all after the Wallabies were spanked in test one and came back from behind to win the 2nd.  They clung to a close lead in test three with the Lions having the lineout close to our try line and were set to launch another of their nearly unstoppable mauls. Except rookie lock Justin Harrison backs himself, soars and snags the steal. The Wallabies hold out and secure an historic series victory.

Fast forward 12 years and that first test at Suncorp Stadium. Folau scores 2 on debut with George North and Alex Cuthbert scoring in response.  Penalties traded, a scrum minutes to go and, surprise surprise, the Wallabies fold the Lions in. With seconds to go Kurtley Beale lines up a penalty to claim the win from a distance he had kicked one not long before. Fate steps in and he slips in his stride and the ball goes low and wide. Lions win.

As it turns out the Wallabies win the 2nd and, as they did in the first test of 01, are pummelled in the last. Naturally results in a decider should count for more, but if you believe the rumours Deans was a dead man walking and very much under the pump. It made delivery tougher. What may have been, though, if Kurtley’s foot held firm in the 80th minute of that first test?

CONCLUSION

This article is long enough. It’s time to come up with your own conclusions.  I myself was surprised by some things though. By Smith’s and Connolly’s solid, yet short, coaching cameos but more broadly by the clear decline in performance of the Wallabies over the last decade.

As for Cheika’s future? Cards on the table, I think he should go. His record is downright terrible. As I acknowledge above the improvement in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales has been significant and HAS impacted his stats in comparison to previous coaches. But it also calls to question, why haven’t we improved? That’s one of the most frustrating elements for me – I can’t point to any improvement in this team. New players, sure, but from any of the standard outputs of a rugby team? Starkly bare.

Of course the big question that I can’t answer is, if not Chek, who? Who indeed. We have some quality talent I’d like to see given ago in a supporting role for the Wallabies. The likes of Lawrie Fisher, Dave Wessels, Simon Cross and Matt ‘Tattsy’ Taylor (acknowledging he has recently re-signed with Scottish Rugby for a couple of years). But we need that MacQueen figure to bring it together and I’m buggered to know who that could be? Do you?

  • 22DropOut

    The comments section should be fun!

  • Bernie Chan

    Dunno about a ready replacement for Cheika…no one obvious and available?
    But surely Nathan Grey is on thin ice, and ditto for Larkham…? The “Grey system” of defensive positioning has so many moving parts, while Larkham is unable to get that backline to work (but is it the personnel…?). As for the new Forwards Coach…if we get dusted in the set piece in Bled #2 then his tenure should be short.
    The losses against Scotland and Samoa hurt…but the 3-0 home series loss was truly painful…
    Interesting stats though…didn’t realize Links only coached against RC and 6N teams…

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Imagine how much better the Wallabies would be now if the ARU (as they were then) had backed Link over the players. Personally I would have sacked the players and kept Link

      • Without a doubt. KB is possibly one of the most over rated and inconsistent player of the modern era to play more than 50 tests. Link would have been the much better selection.

        • Bernie Chan

          I see the Wallas PR machine (AKA Foxsports…) scribe has referrred to Beale as the “perfect foil…” to Foley (rationalizing why Beale should not be moved to fullback…). Naturally, since our backline is going great guns…bit cynical I know, but boy…

      • Mike Thompson

        Yeah, this. Losing Link was a disaster.

      • Bernie Chan

        I’d imagine you wouldn’t be on your ‘pat malone’ there…

      • Gilbert

        Yup I agree about ARU and Link it was very poor form, Georgina Robinson the Herald Reporter always hated Link from the beginning, she was the poison pen that always wrote nasty things about him, she loves Cheika and he can do no wrong, see her latest article about him.

        • Brisneyland Local

          Yep she was the “Information Operations” part of the Coup.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Yeah I saw that “not arrogant and not out of touch” Not so sure that is correct

        • Huw Tindall

          You should see the guys down at local training camps. I’ve got a few nephews just getting into junior rugby and they love it when these guys turn up. All the players get out there and spread themselves around as much as they can with the demands of the job.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          That’s awesome

        • Who?

          In my experience, the players have always been fantastic. Regardless of the team, or the coach. They’re all generally happy to hang out with kids, and often older fans. SO I don’t think that can be used as a determining factor as to whether they’re out of touch.
          I mean, last year, when everyone else was on the EOYT and Folau stayed home, not only did he get married, but he chose to go visit kids in hospital off his own back. He did a fundraiser not far from me, knew it was for a hospital charity, and demanded (I have contacts) to be able to go and visit the kids at the local hospital. This isn’t a capital city, and I can’t remember (despite my constant monitoring of news channels) many other sportspeople or celebrities going to visit kids there in the last year.
          I’m not saying Folau’s out of touch, or anything like that. But I just want to point out that, generally, the players are fantastic, and if there’s any issue, it’s often management.

        • RobC

          I go out of my way to avoid all her articles, social stuff, videos etc

        • Patrick

          same I wouldn’t read her articles if you sent them to me.

        • Mike Thompson

          Yeah, I remember very clearly the weaselly worded, hatchet jobs she wrote about McKenzie.

          These days her articles are something like “Michael Hooper said that improved execution would be important this weekend, and that he remains confident of an better performance”. Insipid drivel.

      • Reinforce

        I think you nailed it KRL. I declare that I am a QC fan and it appeared that Link seemed to be able to get the best out of him – and he has the skills, vision and talent to upset the ABs like no other current 10 can. Foley is honest but he just isn’t good enough to challenge Dan Carter, Beauden Barret and the other congo-line of magnificent playmakers that the ABs continue to produce. Link could have been the man but he needed to be supported when the kids were playing up.
        I think we should also add that the ABs have also improved since those early professional days. Their national systems and approach brings the power of a collective focus. It kills me but geez they are magnificent. They are the greatest team in world sport.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Thanks mate

        • Who?

          Also worth noting that Link used Beale at 10 to go very close to winning a Super title… Link was a coach who managed to get the best out of his 10’s.

      • Upfromdown

        Then the dirty laundry would have come out

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          I’ve heard that too. Be interesting if Link ever does a tell all story

        • Upfromdown

          I doubt it but its not too hard to find out what supposedly happened. If there is any truth in the stories then no wonder Link went to ground.

      • disqus_NMX

        Link wasn’t fired “instead of the players”. He was fired because he hired Di Patston, a friend of his, and appointed her as team psychologist, when she wasn’t a qualified psychologist. It was also found out that she falsified her resume. If he hadn’t done that, then neither he nor the players would have been fired. Both Link and Di were given an opportunity to present their cases in front of a tribunal with a Queens Council presiding, and both of them declined. All you guys keep thinking Link was fired because of Beale, but he wasn’t, he was fired because of Di. Beale owned his shit, apologised, pulled his head in, and has since made up for it. Link could have done the same, but disappeared with his tail between his legs instead. Di should never have been there in the first place.

        Given the passing of time, I can’t see any reason why Link can’t be now given a second chance and re-hired (sans Di Patston), and I hope he does.

        • Bakkies

          Patston had the same role at the Reds and the players there had no issue with her.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Mate I’ve heard differently from people close to the situation. The main thing against this being the case is why, if it’s true, did Di get a multi million dollar payout then? If what you say is true then I can’t see that payout being needed or so big

        • disqus_NMX

          Could be so, I wasn’t there, I’m only repeating what I gleaned about it. I do somehow find it incredibly hard to believe that Di was given a multi-million payout. That would be a ridiculously extraordinary settlement for a couple of rude texts. Again, I don’t know the real truth, but it certainly was reported that both Di and Link refused the opportunity to appear at the tribunal, which says to me that they are the ones with something to hide. Regardless, common sense dictates to me that Di pushed the buttons of the boys that she was supposed to be psychologically preparing. Obviously, at the very least, they had a very strong dislike for her. And just because nothing came out publicly at the Reds doesn’t mean there wasn’t problems there too.

          It seems to me that most peoples reactions to the incident aren’t based on logic, but are based on their moral conviction that Beale’s texts were inexcusable, and thus he was the problem, and everyone else was a victim. Take a step back from that conviction, and a different, more rounded, picture is painted.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          mate I admit I do t know the full story either but the payout figure is apparently true. I believe the “couple of rude texts” is severley understating what occurred. Don’t get me wrong she was the wrong person doing the wrong job and had been employed the wrong way, but that’s just part of the story

        • disqus_NMX

          I’d love to hear the full story in that case!

        • Bakkies

          Don’t know know about that NMX. Brumbies and Reds players stood up for Link and Di publicly. Unfortunately for both of them they had to deal with the lasting remnants of the Amigos era.

          Which tribunal are you referring to? The ARU’s or the one where she won damages? If it was the ARU’s and she was building a case against them I can understand her not testifying.

        • disqus_NMX

          Well obviously Beale wasn’t in the right for what he did, so his fine accounts for that. That doesn’t mean Patston was therefore squeaky clean though.

          Players standing up for their coach is situation normal, I don’t read much into that. Players standing up to Patston may mean that some players liked her, but maybe others didn’t, or it may mean that that’s them also standing up for their coach, or that they too were disgusted by Beale’s behaviour. I’d be amazed if the only thing Patston was involved with is asking Beale to put his shirt on. Are you trying to tell me that Patston wasn’t, in fact, appointed as team psychologist? Or that she was actually qualified for the role?

          I was referring to the ARU one. Fair point on her building a case. I missed the details of the other one, or was it all secret in house?

          I’d love to hear the full story, but doubt we will ever really know what really went on.

        • Who?

          Link wasn’t fired, he was hung out to dry, and resigned. Pulver said publicly that he didn’t want Link to go. RA should’ve backed the coach over the players – even if they’d decided Patston had to go. But they didn’t – they didn’t reprimand the players for publicy backing their team mate over the coach.

      • Patrick

        Amen, I would have had a meeting, said look, here’s the coach, there’s the door, I’m going to walk around the field slowly, fucken pick one by the time I come back and make sure I never even smell the slightest waft of a suggestion that anyone is unsure about how this works.

    • Alex George

      Why include Italy just because its in 6N? Argentina, Tonga, Fiji are all much stronger teams and always have been.

  • Brendan Hume

    Great article Reg. The game has certainly evolved over the professional era. For mine, I don’t know that stats are enough to base these decisions on. The Wallabies coach, along with the CEO of RA and the RA Board, the Super Rugby coaches and state bodies all need to be committed to a clear direction that promotes improvement from the bottom up. Despite his stats, I don’t know that any reasonable person would want to see Cheika leave if there was some positive energy coming from his tenure. The problem is rugby has been in a bit of a hiatus since 2003 with some brief buoyancy that accompanied the World Cups.

    I don’t think an analysis is complete without mentioning the incredible success during this period of time of the AFL and NRL competitions. Their campaign for hearts and minds has been well funded, and it’s relentless. Rugby on the other hand has lost money hand over fist during that time and we continue to lose that battle. It could all change with a great 2019 season – we’re a truly international sport and people who were around in the late 90’s and early 00’s will remember how much goodwill the Wallabies garnered during this time.

    • Huw Tindall

      100% agree Brendan. Rugby has been treading water in Australia whilst going from strength to strength around the world. As it is other nations we traditionally thought of as easy beats now challenge us regularly and the ABs have streaked ahead. You can’t hang all this on Cheika.

      • Bakkies

        I don’t buy in to that. Eddie coached against a strong England side, Ireland were on the rise as Gatland brought through young players three years earlier (O’Driscoll, D’arcy, O’Gara etc), Wales won a Grand Slam under under Mike Ruddock in 2005, France had a strong streetwise side and the Boks were on the rise under Jake White. Ireland and Scotland beat the Boks in that time frame. The ABs annihalited the Lions 3-0 in 2005.

        The ARU had Lions Tour and RWC profits to grow the game but didn’t do it.

        Alan Jones when unloading on de Clyne last year ‘you spent $770 million over ten years what do you have to show for it’

        • Huw Tindall

          That’s exactly it Bakkies – despite all that money we haven’t gone anywhere – it’s been p!ssed up against the wall in a number of ways. My point was this wasn’t Chieka’s fault; rather he has been the latest one to have to work within this system.

    • Bakkies

      I don’t buy in to that. Eddie coached against a strong England side, Ireland were on the rise as Gatland brought young players three years earlier (O’Driscoll, D’arcy, O’Gara etc), Wales won a Grand Slam under under Mike Ruddock in 2005, France had a strong streetwise side and the Boks were on the rise under Jake White. The ABs annihalited the Lions 3-0 in 2005.

      The ARU had Lions Tour and RWC profits to grow the game but didn’t do it.

      Alan Jones when unloading on de Clyne last year ‘you spent $770 million over ten years what do you have to show for it’

      • Brendan Hume

        I think we’re on the same page here?

        • Bakkies

          Yeah sorry my answer was actually in response to Huw will try and change it.

  • Brumby Runner

    Great analysis Reg. Like you, I think Cheika’s record is way below par, but he must see out the term until the RWC imo. Would be unfair to his replacement, whoever that might be.

    As far as options as Assistants are concerned, I would add Simon Cron to the list. It looks to me, after a quick wikipedia search that Cron has at least an equal, or maybe better, cv as coach than Cross. And he’s certainly on the rise if his efforts at the Tahs this year and earlier with Norths in the SS are an indication.

    • Bakkies

      I wouldn’t put Cron in to the Wallabies staff yet. He has only completed one season as a pro coach.

      • Brumby Runner

        I was more comparing him to the nomination of Simon Cross. According to Wikipedia, all of Cross’ coaching experience is at club level in Scotland and with the Scotland U20s team. If that is considered sufficient to raise his name as a prospect, then I would think Cron would be well and truly in the mix after a successful club stint as head coach and assistant coaching experience at Super Rugby level.

  • Brisneyland Local

    Reg, great write up, and some really intersting statistics in amongst that. Mate that must have taken a fair bit of time to put together. So tip of the hat.
    Most GAGR’s will know I think Cheika is an “Ass clown”, and I think you needed a paragraph or two on behaviour ;-) (joke).
    I think you are right that, unfortunately there is no heir apparent. Unfortunately, that is also analgous to the lack of depth we face in a number of our key positions.
    If we cant get rid of him, then I think we assign him some “Grey Beards” that can ‘mentor’ him (Coach Teach Mentor spectrum), and also take some of those “selection” issues out of his hands. I doubt the other professional coaches have had the freedom of action that Cheikmeister has had with his selections.
    The “Grey Beards” can help shape the environment and game plan.
    Personally it would have been intersting to know who the assistant coaches were to those coaches. Because I think part of Cheiks downfall (self-inflicted) is his choice of assitant coaches.
    Over to you GAGR’s!

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Yeah the issue is that these days it’s a team. Henry got picked again after that disaster in the UK because he had a good team around him. I just don’t think clown head works as part of a team. His selections of Grey and Larkham are laughable as are his results.

      • Brisneyland Local

        I concur.

  • onlinesideline

    If there was a dead set superstar coach just waiting in the wings, someone ppl are looking forward to taking over in 2020, there would be immense pressure on Cheika. Reality is there aint. The question is, as I raised yesterday, what point needs to be reached, where no matter the lack of clear coach options, would there be consensus across the board, that he has to go. Because I worked it out that there is a very real chance by end of November we will have lost a furthur 5-6 tests.

    2 x ABs
    1 x Saffas
    1 x Argentina
    1 x England or Ireland

    This is being consrvatie and realistic. Whn is enough enough. If this cannot be answered or wont be answered the questioning is pointless.

    For mine – if 5 or tests are lost by end of Nov its goneskys

    • 22DropOut

      We’re not playing Ireland.

      We’re playing New Zealand once there and once in neutral territory, defeats are likely. South Africa and England could beat any team in the world at home. If we put in good performances in those games, win/lose or draw I would not hold it against any Wallabies coach. If we play like we did last weekend then I would. As I would if we lose to Argentina, Wales or Italy this year.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        Mate unless England changes dramatically they won’t win. Soft clueless players with a coach they all hate

        • Bakkies

          KRL England’s biggest problem is their injury list. They had a significant list in the AIs yet handed the Wallabies a record defeat. That is a big indictment on the Wallabies.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          True. I hope they don’t have injuries in Nov. I want to see a full strength NZ vs England. That’ll be massive

        • Bakkies

          Will be interesting to see the dynamic if the Mitchell deal goes ahead. Mitch is likely to be named defence coach a role he hasn’t had previously at a professional level. Eddie already has scab Steve Borthwick as his forwards coach yet Mitch is a far more experienced coach in that regard at test level.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          I think Mitch is a bit like Eddie in that he comes in with a hiss and a roar but players quickly lose him

        • mikado

          Ouch! I’m looking forward to seeing how England go this autumn. If they repeat this last year’s form then it’s going to be a tough season.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Mate I think only one loss against SA is almost a win. They are looking very very good

      • onlinesideline

        it was only a matter of time – they have been brewing and TBH a good saffa side is great for rugby. Think will only get better too.

        When minimising wallaby loses though is seen as a positive, you’ve got problems.

    • Bakkies

      Australia aren’t playing Ireland. I believe there is a test against France which will be interesting. France have a lot of players to come back and there is under age players coming through.

    • Andy

      I concur. As a Tahs tragic I don’t mind Cheika and appreciate his passion. His 3 years in charge were some of the most enjoyable I have watched as a fan and he really brought the club back from obscurity.

      But his record for the Wallabies is not good enough and the key thing is it’s not looking like a corner is being turned anytime soon, so to speak.

      Some of the major issues with the team are not all his fault. Player development, player pathways, poor provincial teams and coaching, abject administration, very hard draw compared to all other teams bar the AB’s. To be honest, it would have to be the hardest rugby gig in the world.

      But what got me was the last game against Scotland in 2017. That was a performance worthy of any coach being sacked. Discipline, defence, leadership and game plan were appalling and not good enough for a team coached by the same guy for at least 3 years. That stuff is cultural imo and it really showed that the team either didn’t have an identity or the completely wrong one to boot. You would never see an Ireland, Kiwi or even a Pommy team turn up to a major international and put on a performance where players clearly didn’t want to participate, like the result didn’t matter.

      And to be honest, despite the improvements in personnel this season (at least on paper) I wasn’t buying the hype last weekend and am not surprised by the performance. Because we have seen this before, with the same players and the same coaching staff. He just cannot get these guys to turn up and play smart for 80 minutes on a consistent basis.

    • Bakkies

      There is no superstar coach in Australia next in line.

      A lot of coaches have international out clauses in their contracts so you have the likes of these coaches not involved in test sides:
      – Jake White
      – Johan Ackermann
      – Stuart Lancaster
      – Scott Robertson
      – Dave Rennie
      – Vern Cotter

      A lot of talent there then you have Gatland available straight after the RWC.

  • 22DropOut

    There is a lot of nastiness about the coach here, personal attacks on him and him being portrayed as an idiot, which is he not. He’s a highly successful rugby coach.

    However, I’m beginning to lose faith in Cheika but I’ve not lost all faith yet and will reserve judgement until after the RC.

    If we finish in the top 2 and perform well in Europe it will be a decent season despite the low we are not now. If we finish 3rd or 4th it represents tangible regression and I think he will walk away from the role before the EOY tour.

    • RugbyReg

      nastiness here? In this story?

      • 22DropOut

        No not in the story, sorry not all!! It’s a great write-up!

        I mean the comments section generally

        • Huw Tindall

          Nastiness on GAGR is like a pleasant chat on most other forums so it’s often hard to spot among us gentlemen and women fans of the game!

        • Brumby Runner

          Yep, if calling Cheika an arse clown or similar is nastiness, it is really at the bottom level of the spectrum of nastiness. Most anti-Cheika comments seem to me to be about his aptitude as the Wallabies’ head coach and public face of the Wallabies and are not personally directed at him at all.

        • Huw Tindall

          Totally – whatever keeps GAGR debate civil yet robust defies the internet in general. Long may it continue.

    • HK Red

      He will walk away? Not on your nelly

  • sambo6

    David Nucifora?

    • Brisneyland Local

      He is a good option. What is his contractual arrangements? Is he still the Irish High Performance director?

      • sambo6

        yeah, i belive he is. so contractually probably not possible. He rarely gets mentioned, and I think copped a bit of a raw deal as a coach down here….

      • Bakkies

        BL Nucifora joined the IRFU on a four year deal which I believe has a year left to run.

        • Brisneyland Local

          Ok! Thanks!

    • RugbyReg

      yeah mate, he’s a name I thought of too. But perhaps he’s move value above that? Similar to Ireland? Overseeing the whole rugby structure in the country? Perhaps even replace Ben Whittaker?

      • Bakkies

        Reg he was a HP manager at the ARU unfortunately he had the role when O’Neill was cutting academies and pathways. It has taken a long time to recover from that.

      • mikado

        Nucifora has done a brilliant job for Ireland, I think. But he benefits from the IRFU having control of the game there. Would he get that same control in Australia?

    • Brumby Runner

      Probably a step backwards from where we are right now. Lost the Brumbies change room entirely when he was here, and the team essentially self coached to a Super title.

      I believe has has had less than stellar performances at U20s level and 7s as well.

      I agree with the notion that Cheika should have been replaced a couple of years ago, but now it’s too late for someone else to come in and take the hiding we are facing in next year’s RWC.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Probably good but can he overcome the player revolt that had him sacked?

    • RobC

      Its too late to replace Check. It is the right time to start identifying his replacement.

  • Seaweed

    Don’t care about the replacement. Changing the coach is a statement of intent. For me it wasn’t this latest performance, it has been going on for some considerable time and includes the failure to improve, the failure to act on what any mildly observant follower of rugby can see re. leadership, strategy and tactics in this team; and the constant playing of players out of position, a hallmark of the Deans era also. I believe that the players have given their all. They need to be led by someone with a rugby brain who is smarter than them and at least as smart as the dumbest player on the other side. Cheika’s histrionics are laughable and he is a metaphor for this country: get your ass on a seat and prepare to be rewarded for failure. Make excuses when you fail, blame the ref., hey, blame spider cam. We need people with vision and integrity as leaders, and people who can change tack when the wind blows from another direction, rather than insisting that she’ll be right even as the boat sails backward …

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Spot on Seaweed

    • Alex George

      All Blacks play out of position far more than us, and they don’t have a problem with it.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        Sorry mate I disagree with that comment. The ABs tend to play players in the position they play in Super Rugby. The coaches will see a [layer in a role and if the super clubs don’t play him there then they’ll not take him. Look at Fafeata, ABs see him as a 6, Canes played him at lock and it cost him his selection.

        • I don’t totally disagree with either of you here. The AB will see something in a player for a different position to where he has been playing and get him time at that position at Super Rugby level, train him up to that position, or double skill him.

          But they will take someone like Weepu and play him at 9 or 10, Barrett and play him at 10, 12, 15 (either of them except Scott) and so on. Ben Smith at 15 or on the wing (OK, the way the AB use their wingers with a “defensive winger” he slots in very comfortably to that). McCaw played several positions across the back row at the end of his career and so on.

          The main difference, for me, is they don’t run them out completely untried and inexperienced, for the hell of it.

        • Alex George

          Eloise, your last sentence, yes.

        • Alex George

          KRL, to add to Eloise’s list:

          Ma’a Nonu, Ryan Crotty and SBW played 12 and 13. SBW also played wing in 2011 QF.
          Adam Thompson played 6, 7 and 8 in consecutive matches, and he frequently switched around the back row
          Kaino at 5(!), 6 and 8
          Luatua and Messam at 6 and 8
          Victor Vito and Ardie Savea at 7 and 8
          Even Richie McCaw has played at 6 and 8 as well as 7

          George Moala – wing and 13
          Ben Smith 13, 14, 15
          Israel Dagg 15 and wing
          Isaea Toeva 15 and wing
          Beauden Barrett 10, 15

          Sam Whitelock, Retallick and Romano have switched between 4 and 5 many times

        • Bakkies

          Alex out of those backrowers you named including Richie were capable of jumping in the lineout. Kaino at lock was a large mistake. Didn’t really affect the outcome as many have said though. Ireland managed the breakdown superbly in the first half and the kicking game was so accurate. The ABs couldn’t dictate the tempo and score from broken play. They were chasing the game after that.

          The backs that have covered fullback can kick the ball.

        • Alex George

          Hi Bakkies, I agree – there is no iron rule against playing players “out of position”.

          The real rule is, “can this player do what is required of him in this position?”. The All Blacks do it when they need to, and it mostly seems to pay off for them.

          And it probably says something about rugby in New Zealand that they can find so many players able to switch positions successfully at test level, when required.

        • Bakkies

          Aussie Rugby players used to be able to do that. Jason Little played 12, 13 and 14 at test level so did Mortlock. Larkham played 10, 12 and fullback came through the ACT system as a scrumhalf and his first game for the Brumbies was at 13.

          Mark Connors lock and blindside.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Wow! I never really noticed that so much. I know guys like Tana moved from wing to 13 and there were disasters like Wilson at 15 and Cullen at 13. Not sure some such as locks going from the 3 to 4 mean much though.
          Ok I stand corrected and apologise

        • Alex George

          No problem. Its all interesting stuff.

    • Human

      Phil Mooney…did the hard yards that saw the Reds win a Super title under Link.

      • Bakkies

        Phil Mooney is an interesting case. There are far more experienced coaches coaching at 1st XV schools level. Apart from Mooney you have Brian Smith and David Knox, I am sure there are others out there. There’s at least three coaches who should be at a much higher level given their experience.

        • Human

          Brian Smith would also be great.

        • Packy

          David Knox. Unbelievable hands. Great kicking game.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtmxtXSCmQ8

        • Bakkies

          Absolutely Packy.

          Wouldn’t have minded a Mooney and Knox ticket for the Aus Schoolboys job.

          Alan Jones pointed out that Andrew Maloney was given the job ahead of Brian Smith based on the fact that Smith had limited teaching experience. That highlights Australia’s problem right there.

          As I have seen with European under 18s and under 20s teams coaching is absolutely critical at those age groups.

        • Bakkies

          David Knox was Cheika’s backs coach at Leinster. They had a big falling out and not spoken since.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Thanks for this Reg. What an awesome article. I think it all comes down to the last paragraph though. What are the options? I just don’t see any serious contenders, and that’s without even asking where the money will come from to pay him out. I think we’re stuck with him until after RWC, just like we’re stuck with Hooper for 6 years.
    I think Raelene needs to live with what she’s got and plan for what’s next more than she needs to challenge Cheika right now

    • Bakkies

      A lot of coaches have international clauses in their contracts so they can seek releases if they are offered a test job. Stuart Lancaster, Jake White and Vern Cotter are three coaches with recent test experience that are working with clubs.

  • Huw Tindall

    In the circumstances I think the Wallabies are about where they should be. Rugby administration has been in a shambles for 10+ years whilst other unions around the world have got their sh!t together. Results show that. The Wallabies have been standing still whilst other nations have improved. To hang that all on Cheika is a disservice. The only glimmer of hope is the slowly improving standards in the pathways. I’m an unabashed NRC fan and the women’s Uni 7s is off to a flyer plus we have renewed interest in club rugby (Battle of the Beaches had stacks more fans than Manly mungo fixture last weekend!). I feel this has been rugby’s lost generation but I’m not giving up. Cheika will go after RWC19 and we’ll start afresh.

    • Bakkies

      Huw the problem is that Cheika has one way of playing that is not getting results, constantly changing is lock pairings around and has wedded himself to certain players.

      • Huw Tindall

        I still don’t think there is the cattle to significantly change our results since Cheika took the reins. As an example when the side for Bled 1 was named nobody really had any major qualms. Favourites like Hanigan were left out etc. The locking pair has been a bit of a frustration but I don’t think more consistency in Coleman’s partner would have changed the our fortunes.

        I will however buy into the tactics piece. It has been far too one dimensional and it was only in the first game of the Irish series where it seemed we had some new tactics. It felt we were waiting for 2 years to get into a settled side, get them fit, and get their skills up, before we could move onto tactical variations. In saying that though there have been glaring problems which could have been sorted in the interim, in particular clearing out of our 22. The amount of shit clearances that led to the opposition scoring points did my head in.

        • Bakkies

          The players don’t suit how Cheika wants to play. He doesn’t have a ball carrying 8 to get over the gain line and his fetchers aren’t really lineout options.

        • I’m not the world’s biggest Eddie Jones fan. But when he took over at England, he spent a while looking at the player pool, decided on the best available players, then decided on a style of play that would suit them and moved some pieces around to fit in.

          Cheika seems to have a plan in one hand, a team list in the other and it doesn’t matter if they match up or not. They’re the “cattle” he’ll drove them where he wants.

        • GO THE Q REDS

          And most of what your describing gets handled and controlled largely by one certain player on the field…. ..and he’s done the same average job since the start…. with a few good moments thrown on.
          I call it Bernard’s Foley’s……

  • Dally M

    What is Link up to? Surely giving him another shot could not be any worse than what we are doing now?

    • RugbyReg

      he hasn’t coached since 2014.

      He couldn’t be thrown straight into the Wallabies.

      Now as CEO perhaps???

      • Dally M

        Can’t imagine he hasn’t been watching any rugby since then & with the right assistants he could surely do better than what we are getting now.

        Of course that’s all assuming there is no big fat skeleton in the closet from his departure that has never seen the light of day that would prevent him from ever coming back.

        • Brisneyland Local

          The Skeleton isnt in his cupboard it is in RA’s hence the Uber Payout to Di Patston.

        • Dally M

          Given Link was an employee of RA at the time, if he had an inappropriate relationship or something similar then it would be his skeleton & same result.

        • Brisneyland Local

          He didnt have an inaapropriate relationship he was already seperated from his wife. The payout was due to the behaviour of Beale and multiple other Wallabies.

    • Brisneyland Local

      Whilst I would love to see Link back there are a couple of issues. One LInk doesnt live in Aus anymore. I saw him in Christchurch a few months back. He wouldnt have anything to do with Aus rugby ever again. He parted with them on such acrimonious terms. Plus RA after getting anally raped Di Patston’s lawyers and the pay out she recieved, based on a chunk of evidence provided by LInk, would choke before they let him step back in the building. Which is a pity! I think he has so much to offer Rugby.

  • RobC

    Thanks Reg. I’ve come to the same conclusion.

    Two years ago.

  • What will Chiekas legacy be? A national side without a 10? Or hooker, or having played the worlds best player out of position, without captaincy? Having persevered with the likes of Hanigan, Phipps, Beale, Horne, Palu, Moore, Simmons while not offering players like Cooper, Toomua, hodge, Gill, white, the same opportunity that others were afforded to play consecutive or regular tests and play themselves into form and not just off the bench with second string players around them. I think Gill and McMohan’s departure are two of the most poignant and significant events that have shaped chiekas tenure and have seen me go from a full card carrying, membership paying, rugby addict to a listless, frustrated and disengaged bronco (re)convert. The king is dead, long live the king. The sooner the better prior to the RWC.

    • Bakkies

      Will be interesting to see what happens next year going from
      Twiggy’s announcement last Friday. A Western Sydney side which he confirmed will be the 6th full pro team in Australia. Will provide a future opportunity for players looking to come back to Australia.

    • GO THE Q REDS

      I agree…..The Gill and McMahon issue WHERE the biggest Cheika “moments”……until the QUADE thing started. What’s happened with Quade, Cheika and Thorn will never be lived down by rugby in Australia.

      • Bakkies

        You are forgetting Fardy walking after being made a bench player.

        • Who?

          And bringing back Douglas, and ending Beale’s suspension early, and…

        • Bakkies

          Agreed. One million was spent last year on bringing back on contract players from abroad.

        • Who?

          Agree that’s crazy. But I was looking for events that weren’t acceptable before ‘the Quade thing happened’. :-)

  • onlinesideline

    Alan Jones – at least Quade would start.

    • Brisneyland Local

      I personally would love to see that. But alas RA would appoint Ewen McKenzie back before AJ would even be allowed in the room.

    • GO THE Q REDS

      And we’d have a dangerous attacking backline again for the first time in years… …more often than not THAT is the difference. The rest of it is I believe the unbalanced 6,7 and 8 Cheika plays.
      If there is a suitable option… …there is plenty of time for a new coach yeah settle in. A year is along time.

    • Parker

      There’s much I dislike about Jones and I was never a fan of his disrupting the magic of the Ellas playing together, but he would not flinch from making the hard decisions that Cheika has shirked and that would be good for the Wallabies.

  • Human

    To me, the failings of the Wobs as evidenced in the 1st test of the RC when the AB’s spank us, are based in culture. The whole set up looks to have a cultural problem…Chek’s primary job should be to establish the culture and he is not doing it (if he is, it is the wrong culture) though I do not see that RA is helping there. If he had been doing it we would not be having displays like we witnessed last Saturday. Like many, I am disgusted at the apparent lack of effort once the game was gone. We all know the story of Legacy and the nadir of NZ rugby in about 2007…the AB turn around has been based on creating and enforcing the right culture (though keeping A Smith suggests that they might not be as strict as they once were). Win, lose or draw, it would be nice to have a Wob team that we could be proud of. I was rusted on to Aust rugby for 40 years after playing for 25…but my 3 boys do not play and will not even watch a full test match – this is not an unusual situation but RA do not seem to realise that vast numbers of people are no longer invested in Australian rugby. The Professional ranks do not resonate with us and the rest of the sport is largely invisible. Time for a clean sweep.

  • skip

    If we allow Cheika to continue we will in effect be endorsing a home loss & then record loss against Scotland, a series of record losses against NZ, a whitewash at home by England, a record away loss to England, a series loss against Ireland at home and a series of very disappointing results against other opposition despite wins.

    These have come about partly through structural problems within Australian rugby but of those factors within Cheika’s control, I regard the strategy he is pursuing as fundamentally flawed. It appears he wishes to place all our best attacking players into the side and try to run an opposition off the park and it has consistently been exposed as we have a team of stars rather than a star team. Scott Fardy was emblematic of this flaw as he is exactly the kind of hard nosed, unflashy player the team requires to provide balance and he was left on the bench or out for flashier players who failed to deliver and he took the cash and left. To compare the NZ approach in the week before we were smashed by Scotland, they picked Matt Todd, an unfashy traditional 7, who hit his tackles, slowed their ball and disrupted their game. A week later we conceded the breakdown (we also had an asthmatic hooker, compared to the NZ who pick theirs to be an extra flanker at times). In short, a complete re think of selection is required and if that means dropping one of Hooper/Pocock to the bench for a more conventional back row, it must be done for we are not winning with the status quo.

    The players are very poorly coached. The channel 10 commentary were correctly asking why Hodge was not taking the clearing kicks but our kicking game is woeful and frequently just hands possession to the opposition and we appear to thinking passing the ball from one side to the next quickly is enough, paying no attention to moving forward but all of this is a symptom of the philosophy of the coach. He has to change or go.

    • Bakkies

      The Wallabies have never been known in my life time as a team that would run over the top of their opponents. He is trying to do that without a number 8 which a lot of teams rely on to get over the gainline and a ball carrying blindside.

      A lot of players have left Australia in Cheika’s reign and he also been given funds from the RA that they don’t really have to chase on contract players to bring back to Australia. Cooper and Beale wouldn’t have been cheap to bring back after turning down their second season options at Toulon and Wasps respectively.

    • Duvstar

      Asthmatic hooker is a genius/depressing turn of phrase! Completely agree. I don’t think Cheiks can or will change. He looks so furious in the coaches box every game, and whilst I love his passion, I think with each loss and each barb from the opposition he only gets more entrenched in the belief that his way will work. It’s the classic definition of insanity saying

      • skip

        I felt a bit bad saying it as I regard Squeak highly as a player and a man who achieved a huge amount in his career but to be fair, he was not up to test standard on that tour.

  • Dan Petrie

    Kiwi Rugby Lover, just a quick question for you.
    I personally thought Retallick destroyed us. He was massive. Ben Smith was great as well. However I thought in the first half the Darkness were slow out of the blocks? Be interested in your thoughts?

    • Not KRL… I’d love to hear his thoughts too. I thought they weren’t necessarily slow so much as the Wob’s numbered up and tackled well. There might have been some slowness too but not the main thing.

      The drops and so on… I was less of the opinion that was being slow, more of the opinion that was “Oh crap, I’m going to get hit by those two” and looking up at the wrong time, or the player flinching to protect himself.

      As soon as the Wobs showed signs of fatigue, they were half a step slow to a tackle or whatever, the ABs slipped through and threatened if not scoring. And as soon as enough did it, slid off a tackle, then slow enough the support players were there before the next man was forced into touch and boom, a try. After half-time, the ABs came out refreshed, and with some smart analysis that said “They’re lining up to hit you like this, do this to counter it, and if they catch on, do this instead” but the Wobs never caught on, got ran ragged and opened up like a sack of exhausted puppies.

    • Brisneyland Local

      Dan, not KRL either, but the 5 Kiwi’s I work with (yep I know that is painful hey!) all thought the AB’s were total shite in the first half. Infact one of the Kiwi’s was at my house watching the game with me (and the Italian, the Fijian and the Scottsman). They, all of the Kiwi’s pointed out that a lot of the AB’s errors were unforced.

  • idiot savant

    Thank you Reg for this fascinating potted history. As the Spanish philosopher said, ‘those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it.” I’m not of the Henry Ford school (history is bunk) though great impetus lies there. Im more of a Hegelian in these matters and deeply appreciate your rumination on the past, for whatever small crack of light it might shed on the future.

    Comparing eras is fraught as each have their own unique set of issues. What patterns are there? Well if you lose enough games as a coach, the position becomes untenable. And on that score Cheika has already been afforded more rope than any of his predecessors in the professional era.

    Possibly he is just unlucky in that he has poorer quality cattle and better opposition than his predecessors. I doubt there has ever been a more powerful coach in Australian rugby history. He has had more money and more complete control of selection and strategy than any other coach. I suspect few coaches have ever enjoyed as complete support from board and management.

    And on the historical record, I would love to see more detail (relax Reg you have done enough). But I think the number of tries scored for and against would be interesting as would the number of penalties conceded. I believe Cheika’s reign has seen a record number of tries scored against us. I wouldn’t be surprised if his reign is very competitive in terms of tries scored for us. The attack has got to better than the Deans era. If that were true, defence has gone backwards under Cheika, while attack has improved.

    If we win at Eden Park, and I pray we do, all of our words will seem treasonous. His greatness would be sealed. So things can turn on a dime. Cheik, heres your chance to turn it all around.

    • Bakkies

      A big indictment on Cheika’s regime is the Wallabies ill discipline regardless of the era you can’t afford to give that many penalties away at test level and Hooper hasn’t got the knowledge of the laws to address it on the pitch. A lot of the penalties given away are easy fixes such as side entries, offsides and deliberate knock ons. On the later I know, I know as it has been debated to death on here, however the law has been in the book back to the amateur days (Campo gave away a penalty for one in the 1991 RWC Final) and the Wallabies haven’t been noted as a team that scores a lot of tries from intercepts. I can barely think of many intercept tries since Mortlock’s in the 2003 RWC semi final. A lot of the cards and penalties from deliberate knock ons have come under Cheika’s regime and it hasn’t been addressed.

      • Ed

        Folau in Dunedin and Hodge in Brisbane last year both scored from intercepts.

    • RugbyReg

      can’t give you the penalties conceded, but tries for and against is easy enough (not as pretty a table as above)

      So only on five separate occasions/periods have we conceded more tries than we’ve scored. Smith’s last year, the last two years of Deans’ career (the 2nd of which was just his final 3 tests v the Lions) and Cheika in 2 of the last 3 years (including just his four tests this year)

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f68cac86690403e19226074063f4da6b69efae20d4bc410adc163d4fcd971df0.jpg .

      • idiot savant

        Thanks Reg. You are a wonder. Very revealing. Cheika’s side has conceded the 2 largest numbers of tries per year in the professional era. 45 in 2016, and 49 in 2017. The next closest is Deans with 32 in 2010. The defensive frailty of Cheika coached sides is miles worse than any of his predecessors.

        Surely stemming the bleeding in defence should be Cheika’s priority until the RWC.

      • Brisneyland Local

        Reg, wow that is a great table and very very telling.
        Are by chance you an accountant or a BA in the real world?

    • Ed

      I have the penalties data for the Wallabies post-RWC2015.
      We have conceded 357 penalties in the 33 tests since June 2016, and awarded 302.
      We have lost the penalty count in 19 of those tests, ahead in nine and the same in five.

      • Brisneyland Local

        wow that is bad!
        Thanks for that Ed!

  • Richard Patterson

    Thank you for a thoughtful, well researched piece of analysis Reg. It is my opinion that for some time now Michael Cheika has lived off the reputation of bringing Super Rugby success to the key Australian city of Sydney – the largest rugby market in Australia. Cheika was the guy who finally put an end to the years of underperformance. Finally made NSW a winner and finally allowed NSW to sit at the same Championship table as ACT and Queensland.

    Cheika’s strategy back in 2014 was not complicated. He eliminated the soft pricks from his 1st year in 2013. He took what was left and made them fit. He added mongriel from guys like Pottinger and shored up his scrum through Ledesma. He gave a creative attacking license to players like Foley, Beale,Ashley-Cooper and Folau to play “an Australian Way” which was open and daring. Collectively they made Sydney an awkward venue for visiting sides. In 2014 it worked! It never worked again.

    After prematurely winning the Wallabies job at the conclusion of 2014, Michael Cheika has spent the next 4 years trying to replicate that same game plan, strategy and approach for the Wallabies one level higher in international rugby. There was partial success at the 2015 RWC but largely it has flopped. It has flopped because a/ his Wallaby sides have lacked the skills to execute it in international rugby b/ his Wallaby sideshave lacked the conditioning to execute it at test match level c/ the lack of sophistication and evolution to his game plan has allowed all the clever international coaching staffs from England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, France and New Zealand to analyze it,counter it and then exploit it. It has not been difficult – as we have consistently seen for the past 2 years.

    2 years ago in Bledisloe I in Sydney, the All Blacks destroyed the Wallaby lineout by attacking the only 2 lineout options the Wallabies had once Cheika decided to field an imbalanced back row that did not have a back of the lineout option. 2 years later in the same contest, at the same venue we saw the same outcome!! How any international coach can be so lacking in his match preparation is beyond extraordinary.

    For the past 2 years we had Wallaby sides way down on test match conditioning – in particular, conditioning required to play the attacking, visionary style Cheika seemed committed to playing. For the 3rd time, we saw it again exploited Saturday night. How can that be viewed as acceptable?

    Perhaps more telling is the consistent post-match rhetoric from Michael Cheika that despite the mounting test match losses his Wallaby sides have to “keep working harder”. It’s like the boxer after another heavy defeat being encouraged to run more miles – not adjust his footwork, his punch combinations, his movement in the ring or the position of his guard. With Cheika there is seldom evidence of intelligent rugby thinking, clever game planning or differentiated tactics. Every year it is the same and every year it keeps getting further from the leading international sides. Anyone expecting any different for the remainder of 2018? Sure the Wallabies won’t be as poor at Eden Park on Saturday night – but that’s a knee-jerk reaction to a dreadful performance last week, not a smarter side wiser for the experience.

    I sense Michael Cheika is a dead man walking. A lack of an obvious replacement will impact the timing of any change – but the time to present a smart, clever, well prepared Wallaby side has passed. The Rugby world has worked Cheika’s Wallabies out. There appears no Plan B which means the actual Plan B may well come at the Head Coach position.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      Speaking honestly Cheika’s Wallabies were worked out in the RWC final (which we made at least partially due to Joubert).

      Since the England series the team has been a zombie team. Going through the motions, but the trend has never really been in doubt.

  • mikado

    Great article Reg, lots of food for thought. What strikes me is that since MacQueen there has been a fairly continuous decline in win %. That is mirrored by a graph put up here a few days ago showing the worsening in points ratio between Australia and NZ. The fairly continuous decline suggests to me that there’s more to this than just individual coaches being rubbish. Or to put another way, replacing Cheika is unlikely to make a huge difference unless Australia can find an absolute genius.

    To me, there’s clearly structural issues pulling the Wallabies down. For example, increased competition from AFL, NFL and NH clubs, the particular growth in strength of NZ, or (possibly) systematic under-performance by RA. These structural issues are reflected in repeated, ongoing complaints about poor skills, lack of conditioning, lack of player depth, etc. So search for a better coach by all means, but if the structural issues aren’t addressed as far as possible then results will not get back to the heady days of MacQueen.

    (I should add that clearly it’s not just Australia that have structural problems. At the moment, England, France and SA are punching below their weight, for example.)

    • Bakkies

      France have sorted out their under age and are now getting results there. Grand Slam Six Nations champions, JWC champions and their under 18s were undefeated in their three games in South Africa.

      • mikado

        I agree Bakkies, there’s a great production line of players coming through. However the Top14 flogs players to death, so I think the French will continue to under-achieve at senior level.

        The French women’s team has also got better (won the Grand Slam this year) and they’ve a good club competition feeding in to it.

        • Bakkies

          Yeah will be interesting. Their biggest issue at under age level was coaching much like Australia. They were coached by ex players like Pelous who had just retired.

          Does debunk the myth that France have no players coming through.

    • France are a mess because of the Top 14 and the way that is structured (very similar to the English Premiership). However, the FFR seems to have realised this and is kicking up a lot of fuss and pressure and is basically willing to freeze out Boudjellal if that’s what it takes, severely cap foreign players per team and maybe even play a shorter season to get a better international product.

      England seems to delight in disrupting their squads with lots of expats, meaning you don’t really get the club combinations, add to that an international coaching team who seem to flog their players physically to the point that most of the DORs are complaining about how injured their players are when they come back from international training weekends and you wonder what is going on. Gatland used to get stick for overtraining his players to get them fit enough but they didn’t go back routinely injured from training, just fatigued. The WRU improved S&C coaching – the Welsh regions are generally doing better in the Pro 14 too. I’m sure it’s a coincidence though.

      SA I suspect a lot of their problems are political but some seem to have been addressed in the short term by choosing players who all sing from the same hymn sheet. Ten-man rugby, play the side lines, and when you have to play in the backs, not too fancy, just big, hard men running really hard and fast. Personally I think Jantjies and the Lions play *better* rugby than this, but when 13 or 14 of your team mates expect one thing and your 10 tries to do something else, it’s a mess. A less talented (although still solid test standard) 10 who will play to the game plan everyone else expects will produce a better team performance.

      [As an aside, I’m reminded of debates around Cooper vs Foley, Spencer vs Carter and Barrett vs Cruden, now Barrett vs Mo’anga looking at SA’s issues. Until Carter retired and Barrett clearly fired the backs to score more tries than Cruden, that debate has usually be resolved in favour of the more predictable player. Part of Barrett’s success is that he can conjure magic to himself, part is that the ABs are just so fit and so fast that when he goes, he has support – and no other team has done that reliably historically. But, if you analyse what Barrett does compared to the others, he goes “mad” forwards so they can support him and you don’t get the hitch-step and running sideways that wrong-foots your own side at well as the offence. Cooper and Spencer didn’t always do that, but they certainly did it often enough to get a reputation for costing their side the ball, or the game… Jantjies I think is more like Barrett but didn’t really have the support of the team for what he was trying.]

      In Australia I want to see the improvement but like with England I’m not sure it’s there?

      • mikado

        Good luck to the FFR if they can tame the millionaire club owners! Perhaps the RFU can pick up some tips.

        • They’re trying and it’s reached the point on several occasions where he’s threatened to walk away over the last year or so. The compromises that have been reached seem, from afar, to be closer to the FFR’s position than Boudjellal’s.

          I think there’s a collective willingness among the other club owners to change. Probably not quite as far as the FFR would like but from where they are now at least towards a model that gives them a domestic competition that is good (for some values of good) and also supports the national side. Like a lot of countries, the supporters in France support their club AND their nation and it seems like they’re making their displeasure at the clash between club and country felt. Regularly losing to England, Ireland, Wales and the matches against Scotland and Italy being a lottery is not what the fans want, that is communicating itself through to (most of) the club owners, so they’re willing to take on the billionaire holdouts.

          In England, until this year, it’s been different. Since 2015 and that disappointment they’ve won the grand slam, then 6N champions but pipped to a Grand Slam in a great final match. Prior to that, back to 2012 they had a decent run too. If Jones turns it around in November (I’m not saying he will, I don’t think he can, but that’s a whole different matter) he can blame the 6N on Lions fatigue, the summer tour on resting his senior players. I think the English system is fundamentally broken – but it’s not as clearly broken as the French system so there’s less broad-based willingness to change it.

        • mikado

          Agreed regarding the English system. It’s poor, but it’s not so awful as to demand improvement, so we’ll keep on with things as they are.

  • Nicholas Wasiliev

    Great analysis Reg.
    If I may put on my podcast producer hat for a moment, in our podcast at the end of last year when we got flogged by Scotland at Murrayfield, I remember Jamie Miller saying that, in light of that result, it was time to give him the boot. The past two years before that match Cheik hadn’t delivered, but Hugh was holding out for the Ireland series to be the final decision.
    At that time I was listening in, and I was very much on the side of Hugh. But with that decision, I felt we absolutely had to win that Ireland series. It was non-negotiable.
    Yet, we didn’t, but we played some great footy, and it was conflicting for me. You could see the potential there in how they played, so I didn’t know how to feel.
    After this match, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. The fact it felt like we were watching the same match against England from three years ago, or every single first Bledisloe match from the past two years.
    If we are considering booting Cheika, we need to remember, it’s a year out from the World Cup. Yes, Cheika was able to pull it together in that time before 2015, but do we honestly think we will be able to pull that off a second time, even if it is a good coach?
    To me, the ship has sailed, it’s too late to boot him. If we do it, we run the risk of being underdone at the World Cup, and will that baptism by fire approach be fair to the new coach? Would that be the start they want and set them in good stead, post 2019? No it wouldn’t. If anything, Cheika has shown that with his record. I think it’s a case that we’ve just got to deal with what we have, for now.
    But, in saying that, that’s not saying that we have to put up with crap performance after crap performance. For Cheika, it’s really a case of pulling out all the stops. It’s time for results. He has shown in the past that when his back is against the wall, he can galvanise and bring out the best in the team. This team has potential. It’s time for that to happen, and I’m not talking a gracious loss. He needs to start winning games and gaining momentum for next year, and it needs to happen now. If not, he’ll be forever remembered as the worst Wallaby coach in the professional era.

    • Brisneyland Local

      Nick, I am worried worried about what not booting him says and does.
      1. Not booting him says that we will accept bad results, poor culture, poor selection, no game plan, shit defence. This will become the new norm in Aus rugby. If it isnt already.
      2. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. Perfect Practice makes perfect. We are inculcating this current and future generation with crap.

      I will accept a write off for this coming world cup. As lets face facts with Ass Clown in charge it isnt going to be good. But if we at least bring in someone different we will break the cycle. And that is what it is about.

      • Ev

        I’d like to know how many times teams that changed coach have achieved near immediate success. I can think of a number, although admittedly some are from the mungoes

        • Brisneyland Local

          Yeah true.

        • disqus_NMX

          Didn’t the Poms under Eddie Jones have pretty much immediate success?

        • Bakkies

          Yeah a Grand Slam and a 3-0 series win in Australia.

      • Nicholas Wasiliev

        Good points BL. But who is the back up coach? Larkham certainly isn’t ready to take up the mantle. And who’s to say we’ll get a good gun for hire from overseas.

        But I see where you’re coming from. Think it’s a case of being between a rock and a hard place.

        • Brisneyland Local

          Anything would be an improvement, we need to bring in externals to change the selection, the tactics and the culture. I think those things alone will bring improvement. It may not help us beat the AB’s! It will be a step in the right direction!

  • Greg

    From Peter Fitz “In the scrum, the old line used to be that the two most important players were the tight-head prop and the reserve tight-head prop. ”

    seems a good place to start!

  • Alexander Sharman

    Regarding Macqueen … not sure if the story above is correct.

    “Towards the end of 2000, MacQueen starting to discuss with O’Neill his wish to stand down the following year. MacQueen wanted out after the British and Irish Lions series, however JON insisted he stay until the completion of the Rugby Championship. MacQueen got his way.”

    I had some friends involved in rugby administration at the time and they said Macqueen started having differences with the players .. that player power saw Macqueen basically pushed aside and that by the end of the Lions series the players had taken over coaching and Macqueen was forced into resigning ..

    • Bakkies

      From reading his book he had a major health scare at the time and was combining the Wallabies job with running a business.

    • RugbyReg

      yep, I researched it. JON’s book and Rod’s book

  • Loved the article.

    Looking further afield, and excluding the ABs for a minute, most coaches leave under a cloud – either their team fails to perform or there’s some sort of scandal. That’s still pretty much true in this era of 4-year cycles for the RWC, you’re just given more of a chance to limp along to the next one because, unless you promote from within, there’s a lack of serious, proven talent available.

    There are a few exceptions who get to walk away on their own terms. Gatland, Hansen, Henry and potentially Schmidt come to mind. A few caretaker coaches (Jones from Japan for example) too.

    If you could have your dream tickets about replacing Cheika you’d probably aim for Schmidt, Gatland, heck even fast Eddie for a year – he’s good in the short term after all. But they’re all tied in.

    There are players like Lancaster, White, Cotter that you might go for. They’re not tied in at international/head coach level. Personally I might snap up Cotter. He took Scotland, who dream of “bad resources” on the scale of Australia’s (Scotland have 2 top flight professional rugby clubs, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and although they select from players outside Scotland, that’s not another fifteen top flight players, I think it’s about 5 of their current national squad). He turned them from perennial wooden spoon candidates, alongside Italy to a side that comfortably beat the defending champions, that came within a hair of beating the ABs, oh and that beat up the Wobs quite comfortably. Some of that was under his replacement, but they were still playing Cotter’s systems at that point.

    The question then becomes, would someone like Cotter be able to reproduce that? The SRU was really supportive. RA is a real mess. The players bought in and went for it. We might not know all the details but it seems like, whether it’s photos of the coach with a goat or whatever, there are players who are too much of a prima donna or just lacking the willingness to be coached. The article covers several of them leading to the departure of a coach.

    Cheika came in promising to play “Australian rugby” and I’m not quite sure he’s defined what that is. Every nation’s style has evolved over time after all, does he mean 10-man rugby, forwards trucking it up, 10 kicking for touch? Hard running, inventive, creative backs? Mad fetchers and then fierce counter-attack? There have been eras of all of those, or perm 2 of them from the mix. But the players don’t quite seem to know what’s going on – whether they heard the phrase and interpreted it their own way (uncoachable players, see previous para) or Cheika is just not able to communicate clearly to them all (that could be prima donnas or him being bad – his previous successes could be built on a long-term day-to-day relationship with the players that he had at Super Rugby level but doesn’t really have at test level rather than being just “a bad coach” all of a sudden).

    But, if RA sack Cheika, and it won’t surprise many that I think they should – I even think they might if this year’s RC is as disastrous as I think it could be, 2x loses to AB, 2x loses to SA, 1x loss to Arg, bottom of the heap. Bye! (Even if they’re third on bonus points, there’s the door.) I think a genuinely top-tier replacement could be hard to get. I’m not a rugby coach but it looks like a bit of poisoned chalice to me – when it really ought to look like a (green and) golden opportunity.

  • Garry

    Wuestion is…. Is Raylene investigating other options, or thumb twiddling? Succession plans need to be, well, … planned.

  • Tim Blight

    Great info Reg! If someone else had the time and access to the info it would be interesting to see the yearly spend by country overlaid on the win rates to see whether there is a trend there too. You would expect to see those with bigger budgets doing better. ABs probably an anomaly there too.

  • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

    Great article, Reg. I think you’re right. Needs to happen.

  • Bakkies

    Fyshwick and no used condoms.

    Plenty of waste in Moore Park to deal with starting from the Chairman’s office.

  • Nutta

    So much I want to say about MacDaddy, Dingo and Co without even starting on Cheks but I’ll keep it short & sweet: Bring back Link.

  • servo

    All the previous coaches that failed we got rid of quickly but for some reason we’re giving Cheika more lives than he deserves.

    What’s the saying again?…“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results” – We’ve changed some of the playing rosters sure, but the coaches have been the common denomiator

  • HK Red

    Great work Reg, a much needed piece I feel. It backs up what a lot of us already know or suspect and your final paragraph sums up perfectly what I and I’m sure others have thought for some time. Cheika should not be in the role, he’s limited in his abilities and has shown through strategic direction, player development, selection policies, that he has nothing more to offer. Right now though, Who slots into his place? With the way RA are running the game, who’d want it?

  • Johno Muzza

    Cheika is all about the Tahs, in the Ireland test he named, out of the 26 man squad 10 were Tahs, how Hooper gets a long term contract for 1.1 million per year is beyond me, would the top 4 International teams play Hooper in their respective teams, no they wouldn’t.
    The Wallabies are like the model aeroplane i had, it broke into pieces, the old man said its ok we will super glue It,that didn’t work, It broke in pieces again.
    Reminds me of how our Wallabies have been going for the past three years.

    • Huw Tindall

      We played pretty well in the Ireland series. Should have just rolled out the Tahs side last week ;)

      On a semi serious note though, what the Tahs pack lacked in forward ball running they certainly made up for in their tackles! Hooper, Hanigan, Wells, Holloway, Miller, Robertson, and Fitzpatrick were all super mobile and made a shed load of tackles around the field. All the while their scrum was never totally dominated. Is there a case to picking a Wallabies side with some of the best defensive players? We seem to have plenty of attack options so what about selecting a pack based on the best defensive unit?

      • Who?

        We’ve got plenty of attacking options, yet we only scored one try last weekend, and that off an intercept. :-

  • subfreq

    Shame that Cheika has not been able to produce consistency from this group of players. They constantly loose the tight battles and don’t execute with accuracy or detail which is always the real sign of poor coaching.

    If they were making a change over the next year I would look up to Ireland.

    Stuart Lancaster has been the brains behind Leinsters success and ability to get rookie players like James Ryan turning in world class performances on a weekly basis.

    Australia would do well if they could get him in as a head coach to keep working with Larkham and change up the forwards and defence roles.

    Rumours up here are he is being looked at for the Irish job if/when Schmidt leaves after the RWC.

  • GeorgiaSatellite

    Super late to the party (and smarting from the latest loss). Thanks for the analysis, Reg. Very informative.

    May I suggest another factor that might be of interest? The fact that Cheika is the only one of these coaches who hasn’t relied on a selection panel. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, so I’ll leave it for wiser heads.

  • Alister Smith

    This is not necessarily intended as a defence of Cheika – more a defence of all Wallaby coaches since at least 2008. I just had a look at the U20’s results for the last 10 years and the best we have finished is 2nd in 2010 under Nucifora with Toomua at 10. We have also had 3rd (with Hooper in 2011), 4th, 3 5ths (our current senior ranking?), 2 6ths and 7ths and as low as 8th in 2012 (a team that included Alaataoa, Liam Gill, Sean McMahon, Nick Frisby, Matt Lucas, Kyle Godwin, Chris Feauai-Sautia – these are the players that came through to Super Rugby and eventually to the Wallabies. What ever the reason for our poor results over the past 10 years it is not JUST the coaching at the Wallabies level. We are rarely a top 4 side at the junior level in rugby anymore so yes we may need a new national coach/coaches but don’t expect it to produce miracles because it appears to me that the playing depth is just not there.

Rugby
@RugbyReg

The original prop in a prop's body, but thankfully I have the rugby mind of a prop as well.

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