The beginning of the end for Michael Cheika

IF Michael Cheika’s previous meetings with the board of Rugby Australia are anything to go by, the Wallabies’ coach hasn’t got anything to worry about, even after overseeing the worst season in 60 years.

If performances were the measure of success, as they are in every other sporting team in the world, then Cheika would have been given his marching orders long before now but these are strange times for Australian rugby.

The board has already made it crystal clear they won’t be firing Cheika at Monday’s full season review so he’s more likely to be given a sackful of Christmas presents than the sack from his highly paid job.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle insists Cheika has a master plan that the board believes in but chairman Cameron Clyne let the cat out of the bag when he said the board just can’t afford to sack him because the sport’s broke.

The two problems are connected because fans are turning away from the game in droves because the Wallabies just haven’t delivered on their promise of a bright new future after making the World Cup final in 2015.

Nine losses in 2016, five more in 2017, and now another nine defeats in 2018 is the sad proof that the Wallabies just haven’t improved at all under Cheika, though the players need to shoulder most of the blame because this is no vintage crop.

The pressure on Cheika is immense. AP Photo/Tim Ireland.
The pressure on Cheika is immense. AP Photo/Tim Ireland.

Ask yourself this simple question, how many would current players would have got a run in the last Wallabies’ team to win the World Cup in 1999? If your answer is more than one or two, then try again. Or apply for a seat on the board.

Cheika’s job may be safe but the board may still act, if for no other reason than they at least need to be seen to doing something, or they need to start planning for a successor.

All year long, there have been rumblings about the value of his assistants including defence coach Nathan Grey, attack coach Steve Larkham and the forwards coach Simon Raiwalui.

Cheika has always been fiercely loyal to his staff but if scapegoats are needed, they loom as the most likely casualties if the board is finally willing to stand up to Cheika.

Regardless, no decision is expected. Perhaps that’s designed to add a sense of drama to the occasion, or to give the board more time to come up a compromise solution. Either way, it’ll be at least two days before the final verdict is known.

Time is running out for the Wallabies to pull it together. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images.
Time is running out for the Wallabies to pull it together. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images.

Former Wallaby Brendan Cannon told The Sunday Telegraph that Cheika should keep his job but his powers need to be reined in. Cannon’s big beef is that he wants the board to start taking the lead in revitalising the game in Australia.

“This is an opportunity Australian rugby, that is on its knees, both in a commercial landscape and in a sporting landscape, under their watch,” he said.

“We have progressively gone backwards each year to the point where we’ve just had our worst season ever.

“What does it take for the custodians of Australian rugby to realise that something needs to change so they need to get their heads out of the sand and look at it for what it is.”

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