The Wallabies crashed to a 37-18 loss against England to garnish their horror year with an appropriate finish. The national side has only won 4 from 13 matches in 2018, and couldn’t have had a worse season in the lead up to the World Cup in Japan next year. In fact, this year featured the lowest win ratio for the Australian rugby side since 1958.
Michael Cheika is under enormous pressure as the head coach, as are Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle and Chairman Cameron Clyne. Change at the highest levels of coaching and administration seem inevitable, although Cheika may still be able to keep the knives at bay by sacrificing some of his assistants.
The match was preceded by the revelation that Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper were not picked because they had guests in their hotel room – all known very well to them, and including Ashley-Cooper’s sister-in-law. The actual incident took place after the loss to Wales, but the leadership group were apparently unable to deal with it themselves and told Cheika earlier this week.
Aside from the ridiculousness of senior players being punished for letting family members visit their hotel room (and leaving before midnight), the fact that this issue took a week and a half to be resolved speaks to the current leadership within the team. A minor issue that could have been settled with a fine and a few extra laps after training instead became a major distraction.
The loss to England contained many of the hallmark elements of other Wallaby disgraces this season – an atrocious set piece (this time the line-out held up but the scrum fell apart), poor tactical kicking, theoretically international level players dropping the ball cold and plenty of missed tackles. The worst part is that the Australian Super Rugby sides improved in 2018, only to see the Wallabies fall apart.
Cheika will face the board on December, and its members are unlikely to be as forgiving as they were when they rubber stamped his plans for the European tour. At the very least assistant coaches Nathan Grey and Stephen Larkham, who look after attack and defence respectively, are very likely to go.
According Raihan Iswahyudi from Mposports the factors that could save Cheika’s bacon are the cost of paying out his contract, which a cash-strapped RA might not be able to afford, and a lack of viable alternatives. Most established international coaches are locked in until after the World Cup.
Jake White, who coached the Springboks to glory at the 2007 cup, and former Wallabies coach John Connolly have both been mentioned as qualified coaches who could at least be sounded out about becoming interim coaches for the World Cup, however White is unlikely to be interested in a short term role and Connolly is yet to make any comments.