Michael Cheika ascertains control of Wallabies after horror year

Michael Cheika ascertains control of Wallabies after horror year
Larkham's backline tactics didn't seem to work with the more instinctive players. Photo: David Molloy, Wikimedia Commons

Following Stephen Larkham’s unceremonious exit from the Wallabies’ coaching box, under fire coach, Michael Cheika, has reportedly assumed greater control over the side.

After his sacking on Monday, Larkham was uncompromising in recounting how his relationship with Cheika had broken down. Larkham said it was a difference in “attacking strategy and overall game philosophy.” Whilst it is quite clear that neither man saw eye-to-eye on coaching strategy and ethic, one cannot help but wonder why the ideological divide has only recently become a problem. What makes this all the more damning is that Larkham was viewed as the heir apparent to Cheika.

Their history

Ironically, it is the differences between both Cheika and Larkham that brought the two coaches together. When Cheika assumed the role of Wallabies coach in 2014, he brought a game strategy that he had developed with the Waratahs. The Waratahs’ game style was a winning method too, having won the Super Rugby Championship in 2014.

Recognising that the method would likely need to be altered for the international arena, Cheika head hunted former World Cup-winning playmaker, Larkham, as his attacking coach. Indeed, Larkham brought a plethora of set-piece moves, backline plays: all stemming from the Brumbies’ playbook in the early 2000s.

The problems

Despite seemingly having two winning styles at their disposal, the head coach and the attacking coach just simply couldn’t get it to work. Some commentators have attributed this to the fact that the key figures in the Wallaby backline – Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau, are all instinctive players. And by playing on the basis of instinct, convoluted set-plays simply can’t work as efficiently. Cheika himself even mentioned that the attacking style probably needed to be simplified, which was indirectly undermining what Larkham was bringing to the table.

Cheika’s future

Even before the horror year that was 2018, the coach of the men in gold said that he would step down if the Wallabies didn’t win the World Cup in 2019. This year should be his last, unless he can pull off a miracle and return to Australian shores with the silverware. What is clearer, however, is that Cheika now has more freedom and control over the direction of the Wallabies squad. Whether this will lead to an improvement in performance remains to be seen.