Cheika shrugs off Australian woes
SYDNEY — Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has shrugged off Australia’s struggles in Super Rugby this season and hit back at critics for being too pessimistic about the local game in the lead-up to the home Test series against England.
Four of Australia’s five Super Rugby teams are in the doldrums in the southern hemisphere competition, with only the conference-topping Melbourne Rebels exceeding expectations at the mid-point of the season.
The slump in form has taken the gloss off Australia’s run to last year’s World Cup final, with local rugby writers already dismissing the Wallabies’ chances of beating top-ranked New Zealand in the annual Bledisloe Cup series.
“I am not concerned at all,” Cheika told reporters in Sydney yesterday.
“I only see opportunity all the time I watch the boys play.
“I am not going to say it’s all going swimmingly. We would like to have a few more wins as a nation, for sure. But one thing I learnt in Super Rugby is that the season goes for 18 rounds and there is a still way to run.
“There is a lot of carry-on from people who have a different agenda or maybe they’ve had too many years of negativity and they can’t break the cycle, instead of just saying ‘This is a game of footy, I am going to enjoy it’.”
The Wallabies play a resurgent England in a three-Test series starting in Brisbane on June 11, which will pit Cheika’s wits against another straight-talking Australian in Eddie Jones.
Jones has turned around England’s fortunes since their calamitous first-round exit at their home World Cup last year, with the side winning the Six Nations grand slam last month for the first time since 2003.
“They have shown their quality by winning the grand slam straight up,” Cheika said.
“They are the number one team in Europe and they have made it clear they want to become the number one team in the world. This is a great starting point for them.”
Cheika has promised to cast the net far and wide in his selections, having been instrumental in bringing a policy change in Australian rugby last year that allowed foreign-based players to earn selection.
But he gave special backing to former captain and flanker Michael Hooper, who was heavily criticised by Australia’s first World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer as being a “non-event” in Super Rugby this season.