Australia withstood a furious late charge to upset New Zealand 23-18 in a pulsating Bledisloe Cup match on Saturday.
With the spotlight firmly on their head coach after proving some of his doubters wrong last weekend, we ask: Is Cheika the right man for the Wallabies job?
Let us know what you think as two of our writers debate on the topic.
Michael Cheika may be the only coach in history still viewed with some suspicion after beating the All Blacks.
Not even a heart-gripping victory over the best sports team on earth is enough to wash away the disillusionment of a fanbase that has seen the Wallabies struggle many more times than succeed since their 3-0 humbling at the hands of England on home turf.
However, to now believe in Cheika’s project is not simply a kneejerk reaction to an improbable win.
Think of the issues that Cheika has had to face since guiding Australia to the 2015 World Cup final – a feat that was impressive enough as a rookie international coach picking up the pieces from the troubled Ewen McKenzie era.
Whereas England and New Zealand are backed by an incredibly strong domestic game that incentivises players to remain in their countries, rugby in Australia is being torn apart by a bumbling union.
The Western Force saga – which has seen them axed from Super Rugby – has undoubtedly had a rippling effect in a sport that can ill-afford to absorb bad press with plenty of other pursuits, such as the NRL and AFL, for Australians to follow.
Furthermore in this year’s Super Rugby, aside from the Brumbies, Australian sides stooped down to a level usually reserved for Italian teams in the PRO14. But enough of the excuses – it’s time to think positively with the World Cup two years away.
What truly separates the All Blacks from the rest is an awesome strength in depth and the Wallabies can now start to finetune their 23 after solving the questions that haunted their first XV.
The emergence of flanker Jack Dempsey, saddling up with Sean McMahon and Michael Hooper, should make this back-row unit as menacing as ‘Pooper’ and Scott Fardy in 2015. And don’t forget David Pocock is returning after his sabbatical.
Kurtley Beale is also back in the mix and there’s ample cover in the versatile Reece Hodge and Samu Kerevi. Marika Koroibete is a force on the wing but don’t forget Dane Haylett-Petty.
How all these pieces fit will be interesting now that Cheika has so many to play with.
One swallow does not a summer make. Yes the Wallabies did beat the All Blacks, but it is just one game – as exhilarating as it may be for Australian fans to be able to silence the crowing Kiwis for five minutes. But Cheika must now stay on this path.
The biggest issue for the Wallabies since the Rugby World Cup in 2015, and make no bones about it Australia’s performances over the last 18 months have been poor, has been Cheika’s very odd selections and his curious tactics.
He has been banging on and on about playing attractive rugby, bringing the crowds back, but the Wallabies were not yet ready to play that type of game – as England proved so comprehensively in June last year and Scotland confirmed just a few months ago.
To play that style of game, just ask Steve Hansen, you need to establish a solid forward platform at the set piece, and you need to be winning your collisions and the breakdown battle.
The problem was the Wallabies never seemed to have that forward dominance and rather than fixing the issue Cheika persisted with bizarre selections.
Many critics noted a bias in Cheika’s selection policy, with the former NSW coach seeming to pick Waratahs players on their performances of 2014 not 2017. But now finally Cheika is swallowing his pride and getting his selections right.
The formally outcast Reece Hodge has been returned to the starting line up and has been the Wallabies best player over the last month.
Finally Ned Hanigan has been jettisoned for Jack Dempsey and Marika Koroibete looks as good a finisher as anything the All Blacks can come up with.
Cheika has also been lucky – Hodge only returned to the team due to the injury of Dane Haylett-Petty. So Cheika has one big scalp, but November is when we will really see whether the zebra has changed his stripes. Cheika must pick and stick now.
He has discovered a winning formula and he needs to stay with it. For now, the jury is still out, which is exactly how Cheika would want it.
It’s time to sort out the international eligibility roulette once and for all
Eligibility, which country you play for and when, has been a hot topic this year in both rugby codes.
The issue became a real talking point several weeks back with the defection of eight New Zealand players, including their star Jason Taumalolo, and one Australian, to play for Tonga in the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC).
In Taumalolo’s case the defection bordered on the farcical as just a week previously he had appeared at a RLWC media event representing New Zealand. You can expect quite a bit of spice on November 11 in Hamilton when Taumalolo faces his old team-mates.
Eligibility of a different kind has now split the Rugby Union world with Wales suddenly changing their rules and British and Irish Lions scrum-half Rhys Webb finding himself on the outer after his decision to sign with Toulon next season.
Previously the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) had allowed coach Warren Gatland four ‘wildcard’ picks of players playing outside Wales for his national side. But they now have adopted a rule the Australian Rugby Union brought in a few years ago saying only foreign-based players who have played 60 Tests are eligible for selection.
Webb has only played 28 Tests so he is now ineligible for the team although the rule only changed after he signed for the French club.
Meanwhile, in football, to further highlight the issue – FIFA have now weighed in by suggesting they may relax their own strict eligibility rules.
Football had its own problems back in July when French Guiana were fined and forced to forfeit a match after ex-France mid-fielder Florent Malouda played for them in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Malouda was born in Cayenne in French Guiana, hence they had no problem selecting him for their representative team, and since French Guiana are not members of FIFA there was no issue with him playing for them previously in friendly matches.
It was only because the Gold Cup was played under FIFA eligibility rules that suddenly Malouda was illegal.
Now FIFA are considering changing their rules to help teams like French Guiana in future.
“There are so many issues that have popped up over the years because the world is changing, immigration is changing,” said Victor Montagliani, president of CONCACAF.
“There are nationality issues that pop up all over the world, in Africa, there are issues in Asia and CONCACAF, so its a good time to have a look at this and see if there are solutions, without hurting the integrity of the game.”
At present in football, players who have played a competitive international for one team cannot switch to another nation even when they hold dual nationality.
Cape Verde have proposed this rule be relaxed in cases where the player has played only one or two games for his original national side but has no realistic chance of a recall.
FIFA could also look into a compensation scheme in cases where a player goes through the training system of one country and represents it a youth level before switching to another.
Rugby now follows a similar line to football where if a player represents one country at senior level they can not play for another.
This is very harsh on the island nations such as Tonga, Samoa and Fiji who consistently lose players to ‘bigger’ rugby countries like Australia and New Zealand, although the players are often discarded after a few tests, like Taqele Naiyaravoro or Radike Samo.
League follows an overly flexible route where players can simply nominate before a tournament which nation to play for under birth, heritage or residency criteria, which leads to situations like Taumalolo.
On one side you want an even playing field with nations being as strong as possible and smaller countries not being pillaged by the larger ones, but on the other hand if a player changes nations like they change clubs it can make international tournaments untenable.
A delicate balance needs to be struck in international tournaments between integrity and competitiveness and FIFA’s suggested changes may well be the way towards reaching that.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins begin a new era without inspirational captain Ben Bolger tomorrow night when they host Dubai Hurricanes – but the players insist they must move on.
Quins will be looking to maintain their unbeaten start to the season – but the underlying current to this encounter will be the hosts heading into battle for the first time without captain courageous Bolger, who announced his retirement from rugby earlier this week.
The flanker broke the news to teammates at training on Monday, having come to the decision to call it a day with his health in mind, having suffered numerous concussions throughout his career.
Winger Chris Marshall has a particularly close bond with Bolger as they both arrived in the UAE and the club at the same time as each other. Marshall, who like Bolger has represented the UAE, at sevens level, has endured his own injury nightmare, having spent the last two years on the sidelines following a dislocated shoulder.
And even though he knows Bolger’s loss will leave a huge void, he is confident Quins will react positively.
“The team are fired up for this one after a couple of weeks off and being back at home,” said Marshall.
“Obviously it’s huge to lose someone like Ben from the side, he’s a massive part of the club both on and off the field and the boys have always looked to him as a leader.
“We arrived at the Quins at the same time so it’s gutting for me to see him hang his boots up, but I very much understand the reasoning.
“I don’t think he or the team will let it make a difference at the weekend though, we have several boys who can step up and lead from the front and Ben will very much remain a big part of the group.”
Luke Stevenson has had a similarly talismanic effect on Quins as Bolger and he too is focusing on the fact both the club and player will move on.
“It will definitely will be a factor without Ben, he’s a massive influence on all the boys on the pitch and as a bloke, not just in his performance as a player, so he will of course be missed,” said the fly-half, who featured alongside his now ex-skipper at international level for the UAE in May.
“But we’ve got boys who now get a chance to step up and I’m confident they’ll do that. He’ll still be there in the sheds before and after the game, so he’ll still have his influence. Hopefully we can put in a good performance for him.”
Canes coach, Mike Wernham, meanwhile is relishing the challenge of heading into the lion’s den to face an animal that, although unbeaten after two games, will be wounded by the loss of Bolger.
“We know it’s our biggest challenge yet, we’re under no illusions about that,” said Wernham.
“We have to raise our effort two-fold. We’re targeting certain areas after addressing what wasn’t good against Eagles. We thought the set-piece was a lot better but continuity wasn’t as strong as what it will need to be against Quins.
“We haven’t had our strongest 15 out yet so this will give us a good indication of where we’re at. I’m looking forward to going down with our strongest 22.
“These are the games you put the work in for. We have a massive challenge ahead of us but we’re looking forward to it. I’ve got a good relationship with (Quins head coach) Mike McFarlane and they remain the team to beat this season.”