Wallabies "can't have grey areas" in team protocol after duo stood down in England: Cheika

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by Beth Newman

UPDATED: Wallabies pair Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale have been stood down for the weekend's Test at Twickenham after breaching team protocol.

A report emerged overnight in Australia that the pair were sanctioned for inviting women back to their hotel after the first Test in Cardiff just under a fortnight ago and Wallabies officials confirmed the news ahead of their captain's run at Twickenham.

The Wallabies have a strict rule that no guests are allowed to be brought back to hotel rooms and though it is believed the women were Ashley-Cooper's sister-in-law and some friends, Australia's leadership group including Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Nick Phipps, Samu Kerevi and Allan Alaalatoa determined it was a basic breach of team rules.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he first heard of the issue on Tuesday, three days after the Wallabies' 26-7 win over Italy, and opted to stand the pair, who have played a combined 200 Tests, down for one game.

Though both captain and coach have described the incident as a minor one, they were also adamant there was no grey area with the call.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says there are no grey areas for his team. Photo: Getty Images"That's a team, I don't like the word rules, but they're part of our standards," he said.

"I think that's the right thing these days without a doubt.

"There's different times where we bring our families into the hotel and different things like that but this was different and even though there's nothing sinister I still think the rules are rules, the team law's the team law and I think that's where we've got to go.

"We've got to make this team better and stop making the small excuses, "I didn't understand that that would be, I thought that would be okay," That's the way it is. You can't have that grey."

Cheika said at Thursday's team announcement press conference that Beale's form had been a factor in his omission.

Though he maintained he was no guaranteed inclusion in England, Cheika said he saw no reason to air the issue outside of the team and Rugby Australia executives until the report emerged in Australia early on Saturday morning.

Once that began to spread, Cheika wanted to "set the record straight" and both he and his captain were on the front foot of the issue.

"I said that he's been in and out of form this year, which is totally true and he has been," he said.

"His form hasn't been golden whatsoever, he was on the bench last week and I considered leaving him out last week of the team on form.

"I want to be really clear. If there's a third party involved 100 per cent got to have absolute clarity in how we deliver because there's other people involved but inside of the team, I answer to Rugby Australia, they understand what's happening inside of the team and they're fully supportive of what we've done.

"I don't think that I need to come out and tell anyone  just for the sake of it. Then once it comes out and there's whispers, then I have to set the record straight, which is what I'm doing."

The players found out ahead of last week's Italy game but captain Michael Hooper said given the timing they had opted against taking things further until after that match was done.

Cheika first heard of the issue on Tuesday this week and said he immediately opted to stand the pair down.

“It came to our attention last week, we were well into the week so the idea was to focus on game, to get through that and then deal with it afterwards," Hooper said.

"You don’t want to confuse where things are at.

"As a group, largely we have moved on from that. As Michael said: a relatively small deal as far as what the actual thing was that happened. We made the decision to not go with it there and go with it down the track."


Michael Hooper and the Wallabies leaders didn't have an easy decision to make. Photo: Getty ImagesHooper has played with both players throughout his career and admitted the decision was not an easy one but that it simply had to be made.

"It’s extremely hard. There’s no way around it," he said.

"We’re all mates wanting to see each other do the best but the team comes first, and being genuine.

"That’s the direction we’ve got to go, these small steps to putting the team first are going to have a great outcome in the end.

"When we say we are going to put a line in the sand, it is important we stick to that.

"We’ve got big goals as a team, we've got big goals, so to be able to do that you've got to do what you say you are going to do and we didn't on this occasion."

Cheika praised his leaders for making that call, when it would have been easier to let something like that slip through the cracks especially with a 4-8 record this year.

"We’ve been under a heap of heat and we’ve stayed very solid, we’ve stayed together," he said.

"We’re able to still make strong decisions where it may have been easier to say, “Well, here are a couple of great players, let’s make sure they’re in the team because we need a win at all costs”.

"I think we’ve stayed very solid and we’ve just got to take out some of the shortcuts that plague many teams and be 100 per cent - we’re going to go and do the hard road and put in everything we can to get there every single time."

That attitude was also what led Cheika down the path of suspension as opposed to a fine or other punishment.

"Because they're the standards, that's I think is the standard. Because money's not what this is about," he said.

"The small team rules show I'm on board with everything - not 99 per cent or 98 per cent of the stuff.

"Here (against England) last year we were 10-6 at the 71st minute and ended up 30-6. That's 10 per cent of the game.

"It's maybe 12 per cent of the game, it's not a long period of time or whatever it was.

"You've got to stay on all the time and it's those little disciplines and respecting of those small disciplines that count inside of sporting teams.

"That's where I think strong culture, strong team structure is made. Yeah, tough decision I get it, I understand, I do, but I think in the longer term, they get more gain out of it."


Adam Ashley-Cooper has been stood down for the game. Photo: Getty ImagesBoth players have been training with the squad as normal and Cheika said they were doing everything they could to make it up to the team.

They're very contrite that they let the team down," he said.

"You've seen by their involvement in the week and even today that they want nothing else but the team to win tomorrow, simple as that."

Both Cheika and Hooper dismissed the suggestion that the move might create some tension in the Wallabies ranks, with the breach seen as clear cut.

"The leadership group in our team is reflective of the whole team," Cheika said.

"One thing we've had this year is we've been very solid. In the face of a lot of adversity, often it coming from you guys (media), not saying that disrespectfully.

"That's not always easy to take and you look for excuses.

"I've been actually pretty pleased that we've stayed very solid and haven't gone and looked for excuses there. We've got to look for less and less excuses all the time, on all the small things. No matter how minor something  is you've got to get excuses done.

"I suppose the interesting part for me is the ability to try and - I had an incident way back when I first took over the team which I dealt with, nothing major, again internal, which I dealt with inside of the team and it had real knock-on effects.

"I think that for little things and little slips in standards, I think if anyone looks at our team now compared to perhaps previous to the end of 2014, we've been pretty squeaky clean and it's because we've been tough on small things whenever possible whether they be at training or off the field and I think this is trying to empower the players to get more in control of that and I think that's something that's good for the team in the long run."

Hooper said decisions like these would set the tone for the side culturally heading into 2019.

"Obviously we’ve got a huge game here tomorrow, and then we’ve got some time off so that gives a lot of players and staff time to reflect," he said.

"Reflect on some of the courses of action and things that we’ve done this year, really draw on these occasions and use them going forward.

"It would be foolish to wipe this stuff clean and start a new year, this is stuff that we’re going to take into next year and be something that’s really worthwhile.

"If we’re going to do this and take this line, it’s going to be worthwhile for us and we have to get the positives out of it.

"Going forward we’ll have meetings together next year, how we can extend that and push that to be the team we want to become."

The Wallabies take on England at Twickenham on Saturday November 24, kicking off at 3pm local, Sunday 2am AEDT, LIVE on beIn Sports and SBS.