Michael Cheika has put together a balanced squad, made up of a good supply of experienced campaigners and enthusiastic youngsters, writes MARIETTE ADAMS as part of SA Rugby magazine’s in-depth World Cup preview.
Australian rugby has been through some troubled times on the field and in the boardroom (not to mention the courtroom) this past year. The Wallabies were subjected to nine defeats and had just four wins in 2018, one of their poorest years in memory.
Coupled with that has been the dismissal of arguably their best player, Israel Folau.
His refusal to curb his erratic behaviour and hurtful social media posts left Rugby Australia with no choice but to terminate his contract. Not only does that leave some big shoes to fill in the Wallabies backline, but the former superstar playmaker slapped a multi-million dollar lawsuit on his former employers.
And yet, despite all of this, the men from Down Under remain noteworthy outsiders for World Cup glory. Having missed out on a semi-final berth only twice since the World Cup began in 1987, it is expected – at least on the home front – that the two-time world champions and 2015 finalists will reach the last four this time around.
The onus on their fate appears to have fallen on the coach Michael Cheika.
Cheika is the only coach to have won major titles in both hemispheres (the European Cup with Leinster in 2009 and a Super Rugby title with the Waratahs in 2014). But since replacing Ewen McKenzie as Wallabies coach in 2014, he has been a polarising figure, not least because of his team’s gross failure to secure any silverware or to achieve any real degree of consistency. His unpopularity in some circles stems from various meltdowns and temper tantrums in stadiums all over the world, explosive media conferences and his perceived lack of respect for his counterparts, particularly All Blacks boss Steve Hansen.
The Wallabies’ poor record in the five years he has been in charge have inspired calls for Cheika to be sacked.
If they underperform at the World Cup, Rugby Australia might just cave and opt not to extend his contract.
Unlike most nations who thrive when they are up against it, this Wallabies side comes apart at the seams when things don’t go their way. The Wallabies’ fragile mentality needs drastic improvement.