There are not many jobs in World Rugby that hold an expectancy of a nation more so than that of the Wallabies Head Coach. Michael Cheika is the current incumbent of that highly regarded jacket but he and his squad are at a crossroads that may drive him in an opposite direction to the next Rugby World Cup.
Cheika’s predecessors have won two world cups between them and although he himself has delivered a runner up spot in the World Cup himself, you have to look at the bigger picture to paint a true reflection of the former Number 8’s time in charge of the Gold and Greens.
His win ratio is a lowly 51% which is the lowest of all Australian coaches in the professional era part from his direct predecessor, Ewan McKenzie, who had a 50%-win ratio. It’s not just the figure of 51% that is the issue here, it is more the fact that his record against other tier one nations is so poor.
The Sydney born coach has always had the upper hand over Wales and Argentina with an immaculate record but after that it is grim reading:
England – 14%
New Zealand – 18%
Ireland – 20%
South Africa – 50%
France – 50%
Scotland – 50%
He’s been white washed in Australia by England in a three test series and also Scotland have seen success Down Under as well as Ireland as recently as June this year.
Going to Australia on tour used to be a fearful experience for opposing teams but it just isn’t the case anymore. Think back to England’s tour of hell and the British and Irish Lions in 2001. That may sound a bit far fetched in some ways to say that but you always believe that Australia are there for the taking now. It’s almost like they have softened up and lost their edge.
Cheika did take over at a very turbulent time in the Wallabies history when Ewan Mckenzie left in such abrupt circumstances and to a degree the Heineken Cup winning Head Coach did steady a rocky ship.
Leading up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup though the form of the national side was indifferent. They lost 3 of their 4 matches in the November Internationals as their scrum capitulated all over Europe but Cheika must take huge credit for what happened next.
He brought in a law that would later be christened ‘Giteau’s Law’. It allowed foreign based Australian players with a certain amount of caps or seasons playing Super Rugby to represent the national team yet again. It opened the door for Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell to come back into the fold before the Rugby Championship that season and the impact was immeasurable.
His team won the shortened version of the Championship that year which included a rare win over the All Blacks. The Wallabies then reached the World Cup Final that same year, knocking out hosts England along the way but in all reality, the return of such experienced players was merely papering over some cracks.
Since then it has been mixed results all along the road but this time there will be no new law that can save him.
Conceding 78 points in two matches against the All Blacks has raised serious concern and Raelene Castle has had to come out this week in defence of her Head Coach.
The Australian Rugby CEO has intimated that Cheika will see his contract through until after next years World Cup but that the performances and results cannot be ignored.
I am not sure what can be done though. The ARU have pumped resources into the national squad in recent seasons but the results have only gone way.
There is now a losing mentality in the squad and that is hard to shake off once it has manifested itself in a group.
I have sat in press conferences with Cheika and he is an imposing figure that quite clearly you wouldn’t want to cross but, like the national team, his fear factor is dwindling.
Should they lose this weekend to the Springboks in Brisbane, the stadium that once was their ultimate fortress, (between 2003 and up to the British and Irish Lions tour of 2013 they lost only once there) then it is time for Cheika to check out and hand this squad over to someone else.