Depth is the key to a Wallabies upsurge

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

As the dust began to settle on the Wallabies’ final 2016 Test, the venom exchanged between Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and England coach Eddie Jones lost its bite.

Jones offered up ‘cold beer and cold pies’ to the Wallabies post-match and Australia took up Dylan Hartley’s invitation to share a drink in the sheds after the game.

Cheika and Jones were both part of a referee’s meeting on Friday and the Wallabies mentor said there was no lingering bad blood afterward.

"They invited us into the dressing room and the lads are in there now. Everyone is playing hard off the field and on the field,” he said.

“But at the end of the day one team wins and you respect that and everyone goes on with their business." - Michael Cheika

“Everyone has to keep that pretty real. We go hard at each other sometimes and sometimes we don't. But there is respect there always.

"When you win you stay humble and when you lose you pay respect and that's the way she rolls."

With three years left until the next Rugby World Cup, Cheika said there were a number of challenges facing Australian rugby, with his first move to try and shore up depth.

Thirteen men have joined the Wallabies’ ranks this season and Cheika said he expected more to join those in 2017, keen to see some more competition between players, praising those who have put the heat on incumbents in 2016.

“Hodge, Haylett-Petty, you forget he's a first year, Kerevi when he played, Sefa Naivalu. It's not like we're going to have any that have won just one cap, Tom Robertson came in and played both sides of the scrum,” he said.

“And then you've got Adam Coleman who wasn't here tonight, Lopeti Timani, Nick Frisby and then you've got a bunch behind who have not played a Test at all.

“I still believe we've got some fellas from our 20s that we will be looking to blood next year.

“I would expect the three development players we've brought with us I would expect that they will play for Australia next year - that is what they have been told.

“We're looking to set the standard and build the competition and I think you see that.

“[Samu] Kerevi makes [Tevita] Kuridrani play better, [Sefa] Naivalu makes [Henry] Speight play better and so on and so forth.”

Beyond 2017, Cheika said the drain of Australian players to overseas was hard to ignore

“There are definitely issues and you'd be naive not to look at them,” he said.

“We have a heavy drain of players coming to Europe and the money here is so much more than what we can offer them back home." - Michael Cheika

“The collateral we need to be build is quality coaching and a good environment around the five Super Rugby teams to improve the level they get to.

“That has to be the catalyst to unify the game.”

Looking back at the players who have gone was no solution, Cheika said, but it was evidence of a problem that surpassed many’s predictions.

“Everyone is 100 per cent clear in retrospect,” he said.

“No-one ever estimated how strong the European market would be in dragging players. We've got over 100 players playing over here [in Europe]. I think over 60 could play Super Rugby.

“That's a real curve ball but that is here to stay and become more difficult. We've got to work together to make sure the game stays strong back home.”

As for developing talent at home, Cheika said he was prepared to cop flak in a bid to bring young players through, after adding four development players to this year’s tour - Andrew Kellaway, Izaia Perese, Jack Dempsey and Taniela Tupou.

"We are trying to play a certain style and I know we'll be criticised for losing but you have to wear that sometimes.” - Michael Cheika

“When you don't take those decisions it's like, ‘I have to keep my job at all costs’.

“But I don't think like that, I feel I have a responsibility to develop talent and give them opportunities.

“And that is not just for 2019, it's for the future, it's the way we coach players, the way we contract them. Maybe we haven't been looking at our players well enough in a contracting cycle.

“The [Australian Rugby Union] is very much in line with the project as well.”