Michael Cheika will face the Rugby Australia board on Monday to fight for his future, and try to convince the organisation that their flagship product (the Wallabies) is being managed properly. After the Wallabies worst season of the professional era, there will likely be changes made within the coaching setup unless Cheika can be especially persuasive.
Cheika has thoroughly exhausted the credit he built up with the rugby public in 2014 (when he took the Waratahs to their first and only Super Rugby title) and 2015 (when his Wallabies shocked the world by making the World Cup Final). Even as recently as 2017 it was possible to see the national team improve as the season went on.
This year, after an improved performance from the Super Rugby teams, the Wallabies only got worse the longer Cheika had them. There were 3 thrashings at the hands of the All Blacks, a 2-1 series loss at home to Ireland, the first loss to Argentina on home soil since the 80’s and a close win and loss against South Africa – and that was just the games that the Australian public could watch easily.
The second half against Argentina in Salta seemed like a turning point, as Australia finally played up to their potential for the biggest ever comeback in Test match rugby. The All Blacks, however, snuffed out those hopes two weeks later with yet another comfortable win.
Raelene Castle, CEO of Rugby Australia, told the media that she and Cheika believed the Wallabies were capable of winning all three matches on their Northern Hemisphere tour. In reality, however, the only victory came over Italy, with England beating Australia comfortably and Wales breaking a 13 game losing streak against the men in gold.
The Spring Tour starkly exposed how off the pace the Wallabies are, with England pushing the All Blacks to the limits and Ireland beating them. This showed that world rugby is no longer a case of New Zealand being well in front with everyone else in a pack – Australia are now well behind several leaders.
While Cheika himself is unlikely to be replaced, his assistants are under pressure. Nathan Grey, the defence coach, is particularly vulnerable as Australia have been a sieve since he took over. Stephen Larkham, the attack coach, is also in the firing line. Based on this year’s performance Simon Raiwalui, who looks after the forwards, should also be under pressure but as he is relatively new he might be extended slightly more grace.