Cheika: I feel for Force fans most

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The next Dane Haylett-Petty won’t come to light so easily without a professional team in Perth, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says, but WA talent won’t be neglected.

Speaking two days after the announcement that the Force would be cut from Super Rugby in 2018, Cheika said without a professional team it would be harder for talent in the west to be spotted, but that only meant the ARU had to put more work into developing the pathways underneath the professional game.

“As the coach of the Wallabies I’d like to think the national team is going to be supported no matter what and kids would still aspire to play for the Wallabies,” he said on Nine’s Sports Sunday.

“It does make it harder, I’m not going to say it doesn’t, if there’s not a professional team there, obviously it does, but there’ll still be a pathway for players to come out of there and play in professional rugby in the four other teams in Australia.

“That’s what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to work hard to make sure that pathway is still there - more importantly the supporter base.

“That’s where - if your parents are following the game when you’re a five or six year old, you’re more likely to follow the game and then start playing the game.”

Cheika said it was the Perth fans who would be hurting most after news the Force were to be axed.

“The professional players they understand they could go from one team to another but I genuinely believe the most difficult thing is for the fan base,” he said.

Asked about a disconnect between the elite and the grassroots sides of the game, Cheika said the balance in many ways was out of whack.

“It’s not (about giving) too much money for the professionals but not enough money for the grassroots,” he said.

“Post the World Cup in 2003 and we had a lot of success on and off the field, we got very corporate-orientated.

“The corporate dollar, the premium, was easy to get and we entertained that corporate dollar at the loss of the grassroots but what they forgot was the guy they were entertaining in the corporate suite was also coaching his kids’ U12s and U10s team and disenfranchising at the one end and looking after the other.

“We got that balance wrong.”

Cheika’s next chance to try and reignite some passion in the Wallabies is just six days away and he hopes his side will bring the intimidation factor for the Bledisloe.

“We’ve got a very diverse team with a lot of different backgrounds and it’s about trying to hit the sweet spot for each player in a general sense when we talk and then individually so I can get them motivated to produce the fire and brimstone.”

The Wallabies are in Penrith this week ahead of next Saturday’s opening Bledisloe Cup clash.

Australia takes on New Zealand in the first Bledisloe Cup Test on Saturday August 19, kicking off at 8pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Network Ten and via RADIO. Buy tickets here.