Cheika watches brave Tahs lose to Brumbies

Fri, 02/04/2021, 10:00 am
Darren Walton - AAP
by Darren Walton - AAP
Waratahs host the Brumbies in Round Seven of Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU at the SCG in Sydney.

Former title-winning coach Michael Cheika was a conspicuous observer as the NSW Waratahs' record losing streak continued with a gut-wrenching 24-22 Super Rugby AU defeat to the Brumbies in Sydney.

The Waratahs' sharp-shooting five-eighth Will Harrison had an after-the-siren conversion chance to send Friday night's match into extra time but pushed his sideline attempt wide.

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The Waratahs' sixth successive defeat to start the season came less than a week after the NSW board sacked Rob Penney and installed his assistants Chris Whitaker and Jason Gilmore as interim coaches.

In a chaotic conclusion to the game, it was only Harrison's third missed shot at goal all campaign - and Brumbies skipper Nic White readily conceded his side dodged a bullet.

"There might be a little bit of chat about our bad performance but you've got to look at the Waratahs performance and the type of pressure they put us under. It was certainly intense," White said.

"There's got to be a lot of emotion and motivation for them and they showed that and we were lucky to sneak away with that."

Cheika is said to be advising the Waratahs on the structure of the embattled franchise's long-term coaching set-up.

Whether or not he'd be interested - or affordable to the Waratahs - to consider a return in any official capacity is another matter.

But his appearance at the SCG alongside Sydney Roosters NRL coach Trent Robinson certainly raised the tantalisingly prospect.

Cheika is the only coach to lead the NSW Waratahs to a Super Rugby Title | Getty Images
Cheika is the only coach to lead the NSW Waratahs to a Super Rugby Title | Getty Images

Cheika is the only coach ever to lead NSW to a Super Rugby title, masterminding the Waratahs' 2014 breakthrough before leaving the following year to take charge of the Wallabies.

He guided Australia to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final to further raise his stocks before quitting after the Wallabies' disappointing quarter-final exit at the 2019 global showpiece in Japan.

The one-time World Rugby coach of the year was on the Roosters' books last year before agreeing to take the helm of Lebanon for the 2021 rugby league World Cup.

It's doubtful the cash-strapped Waratahs would have the resources to entice Cheika back.

But if there's one man who could put bums back on seats, restore the Waratahs' reputation and profile and lure some big-name players back to Sydney, it's master motivator and mover and shaker Cheika.

The Tahs' inexperienced class of 2021 look in serious need of a shake-up from whoever is appointed as Penney's fulltime successor.

Try as they might after a less-than-ideal four-day preparation, Whitaker and Gilmore were unable to find the magic formula for a drought-breaking and desperately-needed Waratahs win over the defending champion Brumbies.

They were at least courageous and competitive but ultimately paid the price for conceding two soft early tries and then trailing 24-10 at halftime.

Will Harrison was instrumental in the Waratahs success at the SCG

The Waratahs made the Brumbies sweat, though, reducing the deficit to seven points with a Harrison converted try in the 65th minute, then almost forcing "super time" with a James Ramm five-pointer in the 83rd minute.

But even after playing most of the second half with a man down after a yellow card was issued to Rory Scott and a red to Tom Cusack, the Brumbies still hung on.

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