Wallaby overhaul gives Cheika a new boss
NEWS: Rugby Australia has announced significant changes to the Wallabies coaching set-up.
While under-siege Wallaby coach Michael Cheika has survived the axe, he will now have to report to Scott Johnson – who was recruited from Scotland to assume the new role of Director of Rugby.
The governing body, Rugby Australia, also announced that Cheika must work with a three-man selection panel – himself, Johnson and an independent – in an overhaul to halt the team’s alarming slide in form ahead of the World Cup in Japan next year.
Cheika has faced a mounting backlash from dismayed fans and former players after winning just four of Australia’s 13 Tests this year – their worst campaign in decades.
Despite the dire results and a drop to sixth in the world rankings, Rugby Australia Chief Executive Officer Raelene Castle has consistently backed him to take the Wallabies to Japan.
His coaching team of Stephen Larkham, Nathan Grey and Simon Raiwalui also survived, for now, despite widespread calls for change.
“We are confident that Michael is the right man to lead the Wallabies to the World Cup,” Castle said Monday.
“The appointment of Scott Johnson will support Michael and his coaching team as they prepare for the tournament in Japan next September.
“Scott Johnson has built a strong reputation in the international rugby landscape over more than a decade, and since taking over as Director of Rugby in Scotland the national team has climbed to its highest ever world ranking of fifth.”
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She added that Johnson would take responsibility for the management of the Wallabies’ off-field programme, which would allow Cheika “to focus on what he does best, which is coaching the team”.
The fate of Cheika – world coach of the year in 2015 – has split the rugby world with some, including Wallabies legend Matt Burke, describing his position as “untenable”.
But others threw their support behind him as the best man for the job.
“It’s a great move for Australian rugby and I know it will prove to be the best long-term structure for the game in this country,” said Cheika.
“I’m looking forward to working with Scott and finishing the work that I started by making Australians proud of our performance.”
Sydney-born Johnson, 56, became Scotland’s Director of Rugby in 2013 and has overseen their recent renaissance.
He also served as Scotland’s interim coach from 2012-2014.
“I am excited to be returning to Rugby Australia in the Director of Rugby role and I am looking forward to supporting Michael and the Wallabies in their build-up to the World Cup,” said Johnson, who last worked with Australia at the 2007 World Cup as attack coach under John Connolly.
“I am also looking forward to working with the Super Rugby teams to build an aligned model that will enable sustained success for Super Rugby teams, the Wallabies and ensure we maximise the opportunities for Australian Rugby,” he added.
Part of his job, which he will take up in mid-March, will also be to oversee a new National High-Performance Plan in concert with the country’s four Super Rugby franchises.
No specific details were released, but reports last month said part of the plan would be to rest key players during next year’s Super Rugby season in a bid to keep them fresh and injury-free for the World Cup.
The move is based on a New Zealand programme that ensures top players are monitored and given time off, including missing Super Rugby games.
“It has been a tough year for all who love rugby, and this is an important step in building a strong, successful and sustainable future for Australian rugby and getting the Wallabies back to where they belong,” said Castle.
“In his review, Michael identified potential changes to the current structure and he and Scott will work their way through these recommendations,” Castle said.
The changes to the Wallabies set-up comes as Rugby Australia and the four Australian Super Rugby franchises agreed to principles on an aligned National High-Performance model.
The model is supported by a new National Talent Management structure, which was announced by Rugby Australia in September.
“This aligned plan with a focus from grassroots to international level, will give us the best platform to build sustainable success for our men and women’s Super Rugby and Super W teams and provide a clear pathway into the Wallabies, Wallaroos and Qantas Australian Sevens teams,” said Castle.
“We have worked closely with the Super Rugby teams and I want to thank them for their support of a unified approach to ensuring we will have the right structure in place to achieve long-term success.
“We have assessed the High-Performance areas where we need improvement and measured ourselves against systems across our international competitors.
“Whilst we have incorporated some elements from other national systems, we have made sure that the framework for the National High-Performance Plan is an Australian version that takes into account our differences and strengths.
“The National High-Performance Plan will also be bolstered by the establishment of a fighting fund to support the recruitment and retention of identified youth talent. We want to find, develop and keep the best athletic talent in the land,” she said.
“It was clear when I started the role 12 months ago that we needed to make changes to how the game is run.
“This announcement is the result of a great deal of hard work by a lot of people at all levels of our game over an extended period. The commitment and passion for our game from those people have been unwavering and has focused on the singular goal of seeing our code and our Qantas Wallabies enjoying the success they deserve.
“It has been a tough year for all who love Rugby, and this is an important step in building a strong, successful and sustainable future for Australian Rugby and getting the Wallabies back to where they belong.”