Cheika began in a blaze of glory. The guy from the club the rugby system who excelled as a coach in Europe’s Heineken Cup before coming home and taking the Waratahs to unthinkable Super Rugby glory in 2014.
Then Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie came a cropper off the back of the strange Di Patston happenings and the fallout.
Cheika was sitting pretty and, bang, he’s coaching the Wallabies, taking them on a glorious run to the World Cup final in 2015.
Heady times. Rugby in Australia was on the move again.
Since then … nothing.
Cheika looked in all sorts of strife after the Wallabies’ spring tour, which yielded one win over lowly Italy.
But the Rugby Australia board backed him. It was a decision more out of fear of the unknown. How could they go into a World Cup year with a new coach, leaving behind the three years of investment since the last World Cup?
In effect, the World Cup saved Cheika. If this wasn’t a World Cup year, he would not be coaching the Wallabies.
In backing Cheika, the board then had to give him his way. He wanted Stephen Larkham gone as attack coach and made that recommendation to the board.
In Cheika’s eyes, Larkham was low-hanging fruit. The Wallabies averaged just 19.2 points a game in 2018 as the back line changed on a weekly basis. Those stats, and the offering of Larkham as a sacrificial lamb, played a key role in Cheika saving himself.
Larkham is an Australian rugby hero, a man as responsible for World Cup glory in 1999 as John Eales and George Gregan. A man loved by Australian rugby fans, who did such a great job as Brumbies coach that he had to be drafted into Cheika’s national set-up for the national good. After all, rugby in Australia exists from the top down.
The board’s dilemma was that it loved Larkham, too, but having backed Cheika as coach, they had to grant him his wish of jettisoning Larkham.
During the Christmas period, Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle worked hard to keep Larkham in the system, eventually convincing him to take the newly created role of national high performance coach adviser.
Unlike McKenzie before him and Eddie Jones before that, a coaching talent not lost to Australian Rugby.
The affection for Larkham among the RA hierarchy was spelt out in the official press release that announced his dumping from the Wallabies set-up; not by anything they said in the release, rather something Larkham said.
Press releases by businesses or sporting bodies announcing someone has been flicked are normally as see-through as plastic wrapping.
“The person did a great job, but they are now going to explore new opportunities”, followed by said person saying how excited they are to be «spending time with family and exploring new opportunities”.
The release featured this gem of a quote from Larkham: “Ultimately, Michael is responsible for the performance of the team. We have differences in attacking strategy and overall game philosophy. We couldn’t agree on these key points and it is in the best interest of the team that they receive clear and consistent messages from their coaches.
«I am obviously disappointed with this outcome as I had chosen to pursue the experience of taking the Wallabies through to the World Cup, however I am pleased to be able to continue coaching and contributing to Australian Rugby.»
Here was a man allowed to give it to the man who axed him, the current coach of the Wallabies in a World Cup year, in the release announcing he was axed. Deluxe.
The Wallabies won’t be winning the 2019 World Cup, so Cheika won’t be coaching in 2020.
That man will be Stephen Larkham, who’s been kept inside the tent in a holding pattern.
And when he’s in charge, he can stop the chopping and changing of back line personnel that stagnated the attack.
Big Bash and even bigger crash
When Married at First Sight got too racy for my teenage daughters’ eyes and ears during the week the remote control was seized for a bit of Big Bash action, but there was none on.
Next night, the same thing. Which is the problem with this 59-match Big Bash season. It tried to become the Even Bigger Bash, but has morphed into the Medium-size Bash. There’s too many matches and then there’s no matches at all.
The Big Bash was built on the premise that it was, well, the Big Bash. It came thick and fast in the holiday period with action aplenty night after night. So good was it that Cricket Australia milked it and sold it into a bigger broadcast deal with more matches. But the grab for cash has stripped it of its very essence. The country has moved on; into work and school and MAFS and MKR.
Only three things can save it: more heroes, more villains and less matches.