Cheika says emotions too raw to decide future, defends Wallabies' tactics in record loss to England

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

Michael Cheika declined to say whether he’ll seek re-appointment as Wallabies coach and defended Australia’s all-out attacking style after crashing out to England in the World Cup quarter-finals.

The Wallabies fell to their seventh straight defeat against Eddie Jones’ side after the English successfully applied the same pressure game as the previous six, and swooped on Australian mistakes to pile on a record-equalling victory over Cheika’s side.

A gutted Will Genia sits on the field post-game. Photo: Stu Walmsley/RUGBY.com.auThe 24-point margin equalled England 30-6 win over Australia in 2017, was Australia’s heaviest ever defeat at a World Cup and left the Wallabies with a 47% win record since making the Rugby World Cup final in 2015.

Cheika said he was gutted to have to let down Australian fans, both in Japan and at home.

"I am really disappointed obviously. I imagine all Australians would be,” Cheika said. 

"We really went into the game looking to play our style of footy, which we did we a lot of. We just weren’t clinical enough to finish off opportunities and England defended very well. Sometimes you just have to suck that up and wear it, that’s life.

"We want to thank all our fans, they’ve had great support here. And at home, they really got behind us and I feel that weight. We should have delivered for them. And we didn’t.”

Christian Lealiifano and Bernard Foley commiserate. Photo: Stu Walmsley/RUGBY.com.auCheika, who is off contract, said in 2018 he wouldn’t seek re-appointment as Wallabies coach if they didn’t win the World Cup but with the pain still too raw, wasn’t ready to answer when asked if he was considering his future in the post-match press conference.

"I will be honest, it’s a cruel, cruel world nowadays when you are asking those questions two minutes after you’ve been knocked out of the World Cup,” Cheika said.

"If you find inside you, to find a little bit of compassion, for people who are hurting, just ask the more relevant questions. I will tell you for me, I came here with only one thought in my mind and that was winning. That door has just disappeared now, not 15-20 minutes ago. 

"I know that’s what the papers demand but perhaps whatever your news outlet is or whatever, think about people’s feelings for a minute. Just chill.”

Asked later in the press conference if, despite the sensitive timeframe, it was still his intention to not re-apply as stated, Cheika said: "If you appreciate the timeframe, why ask the question?”

When it was put to Cheika that Australians would like to know where the Wallabies are headed, Cheika said: "When the time comes, I will tell them. They don’t need to know today. It’s not going to kill them. Sweet?”

Michael Hooper calls for action at a scrum. Photo: Stu Walmsley/RUGBY.com.auCheika praised England as deserved winners in a game where the Wallabies did not win key moments.

"I thought they played very well, they were very well organised defensively,” Cheika said.

"They obviously have got a certain way they play the game. We took a fair bit of their kick out of the game, they weren’t able to box kick and put pressure on us as much. I thought we handled that part quite well. 

"But I thought where they were very good was in defence. They were well organised down on the line when we had some moments, and though the score got large in the end, I thought it was still a game of fine margins with a couple of intercepts.

"We had our opportunity when we took the scrum down on the goalposts and we didn’t score. They are key moments in the World Cup and England claimed that key moment. They were deserved winners and they will be handful going on for the rest of the tournament.”

The Wallabies entered the game with an intent to run the ball, and they ran for almost twice the metres as England, and with 64% possession, made 151 carries to 71.

But England’s defence was immense, and they not only made 88% of their 181 tackles, but pressured the Wallabies into 18 turnovers, and two intercept tries.

Australia attempted to exit their territory via ball-in-hand, and mistakes gave England access to score points.

David Pocock and wife Emma share a moment post-match. Photo: Stu Walmsley/RUGBY.com.auAsked if the Wallabies high-run, high-pass tactics were wrong against England, Cheika said: "Listen, that’s the way we play footy. I am not going to go to a kick and defend game. Call me naive but that’s not the way we do it. I’d rather win it our way. That’s the way Aussies want us to play.”

Cheika went on to say he believed the Wallabies had played their “best footy” over the last two years.

But at the World Cup, Cheika lamented the Wallabies’ tendency to cough up free points for their rivals.

"We scored some good tries, we were fit and as tends to happen to us sometimes, over the last few years and sometimes we encounter intercepts,” Cheika said.

“Dropped ball, if I look back the Fiji game, dropped ball .. length of the field. The Wales game, intercepts. Intercepts again (here). 

"That’s definitely an issue we have to work on, how to close that part of the game down. Because if you put all those intercepts together and it went close to costing us one game, if not two. 

"I am really happy with the way the team played. Obviously we could have played better, no doubt. But just mastering those types of moments is the next step for the team, going forward for the next few years."


Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said he extremely disappointed.

"I am gutted, absolutely gutted, for a couple of reasons. There are a lot of players who won't get another chance at a World Cup, some guys have done a lot of work to get into this squad,” he said.

"I certainly feel that weight as well of not being able to get our team across the line. It hurts." 

Jones praised his hard-working back row of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola, who were immense in defence and turned over plenty of Aussie ball.

Asked if he had sympathy for Australia, Jones said: "It’s tough when you lose a game, particularly at this level of the World Cup. At this moment, not a lot of sympathy no, because I’m enjoying the win and I think I’m allowed to enjoy the win, but maybe later in the week I will have."