Thursday’s Rugby news sees Cheika come under fire (again), John Howard break out the Green & Gold for our World Cup bid, Super Rugby AU teams update their squads and a potential trans-Tasman comp take a step closer.
Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has hit back at the criticism levelled at him from Michael O’Connor, who labeled the Wallabies World Cup campaign as shambolic.
O’Connor came out swinging after being released from selector duties by Rugby Australia due to financial constraints. He took aim at Michael Cheika, telling the Sydney Morning Herald the players should have stood up to Cheika.
“It was brought up quietly by a few players that the high-risk strategy (wasn’t working). Somebody needed to stand up. We had some reasonably strong personalities but we didn’t have a strong enough group.”
O’Connor also described what sounded like shambolic training sessions.
“I’ve never seen as much dropped ball from a national team. That was disturbing,” he said. “Situations where you’ve got Sekope Kepu trying to tip on balls in midfield like he’s Mark Ella, front-rowers playing like centres when they should be hitting the ball up…you train the way you play.”
Cheika has responded telling rugby.com.au that he was disappointed by the fact that O’Connor was airing his grievances so publicly months after the tournament wrapped up.
“Being a selector for Australia is a prestigious position,” said Cheika. “I think it shows the disregard for it when that person’s talking like that about stuff that’s close to the team and is not really qualified to make those comments.”
“Since the whole thing (the World Cup) finished, I…spoke at the end of the tournament and I did one interview in the Times, where I spoke about my accountability, I’ve not slagged anyone, not spoken poorly of any other person inside the organisation and I don’t want to,” he continued.
“At a certain point sometimes where the line is crossed on what the truth is you have to stand up and say, ‘This is not right and that person shouldn’t be talking like that.’ This concept that I could dominate the selection process is totally ridiculous, it was a vote of three every time.”
Cheika resigned after last year’s World Cup following a strained relationship with Rugby Australia and former CEO Raelene Castle. Towards the end of his tenure, Cheika was often criticised for not being able to develop a Plan B. The latest reports suggests he is in the mix for the head coach role at Premiership side Gloucester.
World Cup bid
Rugby Australia has formed a new advisory board to help boost Australia’s bid for the 2027 Rugby World Cup. Former Prime Minister John Howard, and past Wallabies skipper John Eales are among those on the board, and other members joining them include Sir Rod Eddington AO FTSE, who will will chair, Rugby AU chairman Hamish McLennan, General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Fortescue Metals Group Chief Executive Elizabeth Gaines and Qantas Loyalty CEO Olivia Wirth.
The inclusion of Fortescue Metals chief executive Elizabeth Gaines appears to be an attempt to repair Rugby Australia’s relationship with Twiggy Forrest, who owns the company.
Hamish McLennan unveiled the Board this week, wasting little time in attempting to change the negative narrative that has engulfed the game for much of 2020.
McLennan, who officially began his tenure as chairman on Monday, has been an advocate of pursuing Australia’s third World Cup.
“The 2027 Rugby World Cup is an incredible opportunity for rugby and for our country and we have signalled our intentions clearly by bringing together some of the greatest minds in Rugby, politics, business, and the tourism sector to deliver a winning bid for Australia,” he said.
“As I announced after I first agreed to become chairman of the board, the 2027 Rugby World Cup bid was one of my top priorities and today we have taken a giant step towards laying the foundations for a successful bid.”
The 2027 and 2031 World Cup hosts will be announced in 2021, with Australia going up against the U.S. as the main contenders following Argentina’s decision to pull out of the race to secure Australia’s vote for Pichot in the recent World Rugby elections.
With Super Rugby AU set to kick off on 3 July, there has been a fair amount of squad movement. Following the Western Force’s inclusion into the domestic comp, they have continued to bolster their squad, signing local products Kane Koteka and Jordan Luke, returning home from playing stints in Japan and Brisbane respectively. The Force also officially confirmed the return of Jono Lance this week. Lance has rejoined the team after UK employment law red tape foiled his agreed move from Worcester Warriors to Edinburgh.
“Disappointed to not be able to experience Edinburgh and the Champions Cup,” Lance wrote in a Twitter thread. “Good luck to Edinburgh in the future and one day I’ll get to try that haggis in town.”
Going the other way, former Queensland Reds lock Izack Rodda has signed with French club Lyon, while Isaac Lucas and Harry Hockings are exploring their options overseas, with Lucas expected to head to Japan. Meanwhile, it has been reported that new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has sought to shore things up with Reds recruit Suli Vunivalu after the departure of Henry Speight to France next year.
At the Waratahs, veteran hooker Damien Fitzpatrick hooker announced his retirement effective immediately, after more than a decade in the sky blue jersey. “Entering into this Super Rugby season, I was treating it as though there was a high possibility it would be my last. Ideally, it would have been nice to play out a regular season and sign off that way before finishing but that’s life,” Fitzpatrick said.
“With all that has transpired with this pandemic [COVID-19] and the nature of my contract period, I felt it was appropriate to call stumps on my playing time. I am excited about what lies ahead for me personally and I think the timing will benefit the team and organisation. It will give an opportunity to our younger hookers to show off their talents and allow the Waratahs to prepare for the future.”
Meanwhile, Nic White has wrapped up his time at English club Exeter, but might struggle to feature at all this season for the Brumbies, with the recent birth of his child keeping him in England for up to eight weeks before he endures a two-week coronavirus quarantine period on his return to Australia.
Down in Melbourne, the Rebels have drafted in Seven’s stars Jarel Skelton, Lewis Holland and Lachie Anderson after COVID-19 hampered their Sevens World Rugby Series and the 2020 Olympics campaigns. On the departure front, Melbourne born and bred prop Fereti Sa’aga has announced his retirement at the age of 25, while Jermaine Ainsley will head back across the ditch after signing with the Highlanders for 2021.
In an interesting development this week, the five NZ Super Rugby bosses have reached out to their Australian counterparts to invite them to a Zoom conference on Friday to discuss the possible shape of next season and beyond, indicating that the Kiwis envisage a joint future.
Invites were extended to Paul Doorn (Waratahs), David Hanham (Queensland Reds), Phil Thomson (Brumbies) and Baden Stephenson (Melbourne Rebels). Mark Evans, the Western Force CEO, was aware of the meeting but had not yet been formally contacted. It is being reported by The Australian that discussions will include a proposed trans-Tasman competition.
“I thought it was a great initiative and we can see what we can learn from each other, about what they did last weekend (when NZ became the first country in the world to play post-COVID-19 matches) and what their thinking is,” Baden Stephenson told The Australian.
“I got off the phone quite enthused that they want us in, we want to be in it. There is a lot at stake for all of us and we all need to know pretty quickly.”
Where a trans-Tasman competition fits into the proposed global calendar remains to be seen. World Rugby remains hopeful of achieving a global calendar change for 2021, but is getting major push-back from European clubs.
Representatives from national Unions, professional clubs and club competitions joined a digital conference on Monday to discuss how a new global calendar might work.
It has been proposed that the July window be moved to October from 2021 allowing for back-to-back months of Test rugby and, potentially, some form of the Nations Championship proposal that was voted down in 2019.