Cheika’s way: dictatorships deliver trophies

Australia is a cultural mix, it’s the wearing of the green and gold that makes them Wallabies

"You don't got to love me but you will respect me." Tony Soprano to Christopher Moltisanti, in the doctor's surgery after Jackie Jnr shot Furio in the leg.

Check this out. Six Wallabies went on the sauce in Dublin four days before slicing up Ireland at the Aviva last November. Nick Cummins recovered sufficiently to cross the Ireland try line without a finger laid on him. The other five also featured before being suspended for the next game.

The Wallabies lost their best player and captain, Zimbabwea-born David Pocock to two cruciate tears that has him mired in some dimly lit mind chamber. Michael Hooper has excellently filled the void, of both captaincy and delving flanker.

The Wallabies stopped the All Blacks utter disregard for the progress of other rugby nations last August; the draw ending a 17 game winning streak before the Springboks, finally, did in Johannesburg last month what no one else could do since England caught New Zealand cold at Twickenham in December 2012.


The wallaby is a strange animal. They look like Skippy, hop like Skippy but they ain’t no kangaroo (nor can they speak a bush dialect of English). They’re a unique breed. A way onto themselves.

A misguided way. A dark vibe surrounds rugby union in Australia at the moment.

"Well, you saw it," said Michael Cheika this week in reference to an Australian reporter's public complaint about a lack of access to Kurtley Beale. "It hasn't been imagined," he conceded. "It's (happened) through some things not being dealt with at the right time."

“And now we have the opportunity to rewrite how we are going to go about it and try and be inspired. Not just in the way we play but what we give off to the people that follow the team.

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to do now; go back to trying to be a creative side that had a tough edge. Really representative of what Australia is – a bit of a mix of everyone coming together.”


Cheika embodies this. His father was 20 when he emigrated from the Lebanon to Sydney in 1950. “I think the Lebanon is one of the few places in the world where I’ve been able to see such a mix of cultures,” he said in a 2006 interview in

The Irish Times.

“And it’s been totally f**ked up by everybody else playing world games there, without getting too political about it. The Lebanon hasn’t got much to offer in terms of oil or minerals, it’s just a beautiful place.”

The Wallabies are undoubtedly a cultural mix nowadays. The mesmeric Israel Folau is of Tongan descent. Will Genia was born in Papua New Guinea. Tevita Kuridrani and debutant winger Henry Speight were born on separate sides of Fiji's main island.

Speight, a grandson of former Fijian president Josefa Iloilo, having qualified through residency having moved from Waikato to the Brumbies three years ago, said this week: "There is no place that I would rather be than part of this squad. Australia has given me this opportunity to not only have a good career but a better life, to provide for myself and family back in Fiji. It is just a humbling experience that I am here."

The list goes on. But they are neatly stacked as Wallabies once the green and gold jersey envelopes them. And that means, as Speight says, is “something special.”

Wikipedia helped us out here: "Wallabies face several threats. Wild dogs, foxes, and feral cats are among the predators they face." Others are Rugby League, Aussie Rules, surfing and even soccer.

Super Rugby

In Sydney alone – home of the double-jobbing Cheika’s Super Rugby outfit the Waratahs – rugby union fights for publicity with three professional League clubs (Bulldogs, Eagles and Sharks), two AFL (Giants and Swans) and two soccer (Sydney FC and Wanderers).

Some more facts – compliments of a Guardian survey – show the participation rates in Australia lean heavily towards Aussie Rules (222,600 male participants) and soccer (368,600) with union surprising edging out league participants with 95,600 to 95,200.

But the Wallabies abide. Two World Cup titles (1991 and 1999), only lost the 2003 final in Sydney after extra time to the greatest, perhaps ever, England team. At least they skinned the All Blacks in the semi-final.

Like the Springboks, they have three Rugby Championship titles to New Zealand's 13. All three nations play cricket but rugby is the national sport in South Africa and New Zealand.

Three Australian franchises have won four Super Rugby titles to New Zealand’s 12 and only three by the Blue Bulls from South Africa. Cheika’s Waratahs are the current champions. And still, the player drain continues.

Ireland lost Johnny Sexton to France for two seasons and it radically altered the way we pay players. Private backers, like Denis O'Brien, got involved.

If Irish rugby was losing the equivalent of Ben Mowen, Nick Cummins and Kane Douglas in 2010 Mick Dawson would have struggled to entice Joe Schmidt to Leinster when Cheika moved on.

“We did a lot to get Kane Douglas to stay in Australia just recently but he went to play for Leinster,” said Cheika. “The previous regime felt they had a different idea on how to keep him in Australia but he decided to leave. That’s the market place of the game now.”

Dawson still probably would have got Cheika back in 2005. That was a high stakes gamble by the Leinster chief executive with Brian O’Driscoll telling the 38-year-old coach from day one, in 2005, that if there wasn’t tangible improvement he was off to France the next summer.

Centre of excellence

Nine years on and Dawson was able to bring Cheika up to the centre of excellence in UCD this week. Securing the first of the three stars on the Leinster jersey laid the foundations of that building as much as it got him the ultimate coaching gig in Australia.

Cheika knows how to feed the separate strains of professional rugby with two wonderfully genuine faces; the bullish, on field task master and the charismatic media operator.

Ever heard the open window story? Around 2006, Connacht’s grit almost exposed Leinster’s dancing feet on a filthy night in Donnybrook. We tramped over to Bective for late quotes only to hear Cheiks sulphuric dissection of the performance.

A few minutes later he’s outside, politely engaging us small folk: “Aw, I thought we did alright. Plenty to work on but lots of positives out there tonight.”

Players may fear him but they respect him too. The Wallabies need that now more than ever.

Beale knows, or if he doesn’t by now he never will. Majestic at 12 as the Wararahs ruled 2014, the airplane row, the text message(s), all of it, ended in a €31,000 fine. That’s a huge amount for a pro rugby player to shoulder but he wasn’t suspended. The ARU sought to rip up his contract – ultimately exiling him to League – but they were stuck wooing Cheika after McKenzie’s premature demise.

Maybe it was a coincidence but Cheika, who nine years as a professional coach still swears he will get out before the job consumes him, kept his Waratahs gig for 2015, took the big job and will cap Beale today.

“We are not going to win anything with school kids,” he said when last year’s drinking antics were mentioned. “I trust them. They know that respect is given to them and they got to pay that back. I need set rules in place, because there is a code around respect and if someone crosses that line of respect they’ll be out. They know that.”

That means embracing the famed Randwick culture. Dictatorships deliver trophies in sport and business.

"He's the kingpin, he's the boss," said lock Rob Simmons this week.

This is how he carved Leinster into Michelangelo's David, a four year endeavour, before trying and failing to bend Stade Francais to his will then winning a Super Rugby title with a warhorse pack (aided so spectacularly by Beale and Folau out wide), all of which were jagged climbs that should have seen him, at some stage, hear Michael Gambon's famous cinematic line to Daniel Craig: "You're born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Until one day you're up in the rarefied atmosphere and you've forgotten what shit even looks like. Welcome to the Layer Cake, son."

Career coach

Cheika’s not there yet but winning a World Cup would allow him disappear into the smoke filled ‘Private Members Only’ backroom. To get out before he becomes a career coach.

In 10 months time when Cheika's Wallabies face Fiji, Wales and England, in the pool drawn from hell, today's starting XV will have changed dramatically.

James Horwill, Genia, Quade Cooper and Beale are benched. Scott Higginbotham and Pocock are at home.

James O'Connor, the brilliant three-quarter also seeking redemption, leaves Toulon for the Queensland Reds next year. The Australian rugby union are considering the idea of sabbaticals to keep players in Australia

“But,” Cheika adds. “It’s when you make that decision that money is more important to you than playing for Australia, once you make that decision it is time for someone else to play for Australia.” That essentially is what makes up a Wallaby team. A bit of a mix of everyone coming together.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent