Michael Cheika as Wallabies coach: pros and cons

Rupert Guinness takes a look at the prospects of Michael Cheika coaching the Wallabies – from what’s good to what may be a worry.
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The positives

Boasts a winning record in the northern and southern hemispheres with wins in the 2009 Heineken Cup at Leinster and the 2014 Super Rugby competition with the Waratahs. He knows success and how teams in both hemispheres train and play.

Will attract player buy-in, and not just from his Waratahs roster, but from players in the Wallabies squad who come from Australia’s other Super Rugby sides and are excited to experience playing for a coach who turned underachievers into champions.

A straight-talking no-nonsense coach who provides clarity and direction on issues ranging from selection and game strategy to team culture. He doesn’t have to coach the Wallabies because he needs the money or fame. Importantly, he wants to.

Is taking over a team that despite its 29-28 loss on Saturday to the All Blacks has self-belief. They just need more of it to go to play out games. He is a master at bringing the best out of players when even they may doubt they have more.

Will encourage a high-tempo but physical game, such as the Wallabies played on Saturday. Interestingly, the run-on team had six Waratahs – Sekope Kepu, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau.

Not afraid to provide opportunity to lower-profile names if they are performing and he feels they have earned it. Similarly, unafraid to drop a player, no matter how big the name. He won’t kowtow to outside pressures to pick players either.

Empowers players with a sense of self-responsibility, on and off the field – to the point that they take it upon themselves to live up to what is expected of them in training, games and after – rather than browbeat them over and over with rules.

He may only have nine games (eight Tests and one Barbarians game) before the World Cup; but there is plenty of time to work on his Wallabies World Cup squad in and around those periods. He won’t waste time on unimportant issues.

Enjoys a laugh. Everyone knows or learns quickly that he is top dog, but when the work is done, treats all staff and players as equals. Can surprise, as he did with his motivational ploys before big games.

Wallabies appointment means Australian rugby is spared his taking the job at Argentina – which courted him – or any other country. Making sure he remains in Australia for three years eliminates fear of a sudden exit after World Cup.

The questions

How will he deal with ARU chief executive Bill Pulver, whose handling of recent affairs has already been questioned? He admits he is not a corporate type and showed that at the Waratahs, where he didn’t take to interference from the top office.

He will want it his way when dealing with the expectation that he will steer the Wallabies to success in a job now likened to a poisoned chalice; and dealing with ARU interference when he feels it should not be there. But after Ewen McKenzie, will the ARU allow that?

His explosive nature. Memories are fresh of him accidentally breaking the coach’s box window after a loss to the Brumbies in Canberra, and his $6000 fine and six-month suspended ban for abusing a cameraman in the Tahs loss to the Sharks in Durban.

Pressure for the Tahs to defend the Super Rugby title will heighten. Robbie Deans coached the Crusaders to the 2008 Super Rugby title before the Wallabies – who won their first five Tests under him – but his tenure was not rated a success.

The potential of a provincial divide created by those who fear a pro-Waratahs push from within the Wallabies – or even from the Sydney-based ARU – come team selections, despite Cheika’s reputation for being his own man.

Improving Wallabies set piece to take on the best scrums and line-outs in the World Cup. Some feel the Waratahs’ scrum was better than the Wallabies’. Too bad Kane Douglas is playing in Ireland and Jacques Potgieter is South African.

Who to select at No. 10? Bernard Foley, a direct runner, whom he helped develop at the Tahs to where he is? Or try for Reds star Quade Cooper, also an attacking pivot but who offers more on-field extravagance and is a better general play kicker.

Embracing Kurtley Beale’s return (if there is one) pending the outcome of his ARU code of conduct tribunal on Friday. Will the progress Beale made off field under Cheika’s watch prove to have been undone? Can he keep him in union? Is it too late?

Michael Hooper led the Waratahs after Dave Dennis was felled by injury, then the Wallabies when Stephen Moore went down in the first Test against France. Will he be better for the experience? Should Moore have it back? Or someone else?

He says he’s not a corporate type. So, how will he fit in to the Wallabies’ suit on game day? Pity the poor tailors who will have to fit him out in a hurry in Sydney before Friday’s departure for the Wallabies’ sprint tour. He doesn’t like to be told what to do.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


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