VIDEO: Hooper defends under-fire Cheika
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP REACTION: The pressure on Wallaby coach Michael Cheika is being ramped up, after Australia lost their sixth game in eight starts this year.
Australia slumped to a 12-23 defeat to South Africa at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth at the weekend.
Going back to November last year, Australia has won just two of their last 10 Tests and Cheika’s winning percentage as coach has dropped under 50 percent for the first time – worse than his predecessor Ewen McKenzie, who finished on 50 percent when Cheika took over in November 2014.
With just one Rugby Championship match remaining – against Argentina in Salta next week – and the Wallabies appearing to be in a serious rut less than a year out from the World Cup, the chorus for Cheika’s axing has grown stronger.
They are last on the standings with just one win from five games in the Rugby Championship.
Captain Michael Hooper expressed his disappointment in yet another loss, but said he has faith in the coaching staff.
“[I am] gutted that we could not get the result,” the Wallaby captain told a post-match media briefing.
“However, I am clear on the things we did well.
“Right now, without reviewing it [the loss to the Boks], I am clear there is a way forward for this team.
“Our team, our coaching staff are doing everything we can to get us on that path and on that course.
“I am very proud of where we are at.”
Cheika bemoaned the missed calls the match officials made and asked for some ‘clarity’ around the calls he felt were ‘inconsistent’ by the match officials.
He admitted being “unhappy” with yet another loss in what was another desultory performance.
“I am never happy losing,” the coach said, adding: “I am not saying I am happy, [but] I feel we made progress from the last game [a loss to Argentina on the Gold Coast a fortnight ago].”
He added that he was proud of the energy in the game and the resilience the players showed in the game.
“A fair few things did not go our way around the decision-making,” he said, hinting again that match officials had in influence.
Asked about their poor run in the Rugby Championship, Cheika went on the offensive.
“Mate, it is not finished yet,” he said, adding: “Wait till next week.
“Once it is all finished, we will see where it all finishes up.”
He admitted that just two wins from the last 10 matches are a concern ahead of the World Cup.
“No-one wants to win more than me, trust me,” Cheika said.
“Like I have said before, tough situations come, then they go away and the tough people will stay.
“I can cry about it and sook, or get on with getting improvements.
“We want to improve. We made an improvement this week, definitely.
“You have to ride that [the slump] out and come out better on the other side.
“We are a strong group together, we are felling it, but together we know we will come out of it.”
Cheika said the Wallabies did not capitalise on the opportunities they created in Port Elizabeth.
“We created some really good opportunities,” he told a media conference.
“We just could not finish a couple of times. It was two tries all – we basically gave one away and then we had a lot of good footy, but you have to capitalise on your advantage.
“We had a lot of opportunities, we had the advantage, but we could not capitalise on it and therefore, we could not get another try or two to get us in a winning position.”
Cheika said his team’s bad start in which Kurtley Beale gifted a try to Aphiwe Dyantyi after 23 seconds, was one thing, but the way they rallied was a positive he would cling to.
“For sure, we were down 0-14 in a bit of a cauldron atmosphere and considering where we have been in the last few weeks, we held our nerve really well.
“We fought our way back into the game. I don’t think we dominated the physical contest enough, but we were still able to manufacture a lot of opportunities.
“I think there are plenty of positives, but the thing we need to improve on is our ability to finish.
“Next week [against Argentina in Salta], we need to take all the improvements we have made into the Argentina game.”
The captain, Hooper, echoed Cheika’s sentiments and was happy with the performance, despite the result.
“We got to a position at the back end of the game we had some huge opportunities to get points and could not get there.
“We are creating a lot, putting pressure on for long periods of time, and it is hard to say now if the decisions we took were the right ones.”