Cheika: A scam or the real deal?
REACTION: Rugby Australia is in a state of ‘civil war’, with one acrimonious public spat after the other.
In the latest contretemps former selector Michael O’Connor and axed coach Michael Cheika exchanged barbs in the media.
O’Connor, appointed as a selector after the disastrous 2018 season, fired the first shots when he revealed the chaos behind the Wallabies’ failed World Cup campaign, claiming part of coach Cheika’s game plan was “like a scam”.
The controversial Cheika resigned after last year’s World Cup, his strained relationship with Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle among the many problems.
Australia crashed out of the World Cup with a 16-40 defeat to England in the quarterfinals.
O’Connor told the Sydney Morning Herald the players should have stood up to Cheika.
Cheika said he was disappointed by the fact that O’Connor was airing his grievances so publicly months after the tournament wrapped up.
“Being a selector for Australia is a prestigious position,” he told RUGBY.com.au.
“I think it shows the disregard for it when that person’s talking like that about stuff that’s close to the team and is not really qualified to make those comments.”
It is claimed members of the Wallaby squad doubted Cheika’s strategies, but they were not strong enough as a group to confront the coach.
O’Connor also described what sounded like shambolic training sessions.
O’Connor, a former Wallaby himself, also agreed with star back Kurtley Beale, who said Australia had been “really hindered” by constant selection changes.
“The players have to take some responsibility too with Michael Cheika – they should have voiced those concerns to the coach,” O’Connor said.
“It was brought up quietly [with O’Connor] by a few players that the high-risk strategy [wasn’t working]. Somebody needed to stand up.
“We had some reasonably strong personalities, but we didn’t have a strong enough group.
“They didn’t challenge Michael and the style of footy they were asked to play. There were players in the team that weren’t sold on it.
“It was one of the failings form that campaign; players who clearly weren’t sold on the style of play either didn’t voice their concern or were afraid of ramifications.”
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O’Connor was reportedly “flabbergasted” at what he saw at the private training sessions.
“I’ve never seen as much dropped ball from a national team. That was disturbing,” he said.
“Situations where you’ve got [prop] Sekope Kepu trying to tip on balls in midfield like he’s Mark Ella, front row forwards playing like centres when they should be hitting the ball up. You train the way you play.”
And O’Connor was apparently left none-the-wiser after asking Cheika about his ‘secret’ game plan.
“When you look back on it: what was it?” O’Connor said.
“That new attacking style he was going to bring to the Wallabies; it was so secretive and he had to pull players out of Super commitments and fly them to Brisbane and educate them. I don’t know.
“It was almost like a scam.
“I always thought he was holding back. I always thought he had something in reserve and was being very cagey. But he didn’t. It was always going to end in tears.”
O’Connor said Castle, who has since been deposed, was “hell-bent on trying to rein in Michael Cheika, and that was always going to be difficult”.
“He’s a particular sort of person, very strong-willed. Michael [Cheika] wasn’t appointed by her. It was a difficult, awkward situation.”
O’Connor said Cheika wanted to fly solo as a selector, although that wasn’t unusual for a coach.
Cheika was angry that his power had been diluted when Castle appointed Scott Johnson above him as Rugby Director, as well as a selector.
The extent of problems within the Aussie rugby camp was exposed by a huge argument between Cheika and Castle at the World Cup in Japan.
O’Connor is confident about Australia’s future, with quality players coming through and good coaches like former All Black Brad Thorn in the ranks.
The 59-year-old O’Connor was a superb outside back who played for the Wallabies and Kangaroos. He also coached Australia’s Sevens team.
He has been released as a selector because of the virus-related financial issues.
Sources: Sydney Morning Herald & RUGBY.com.au.