TOKYO (AP) — In the immediate aftermath of a bitter Rugby World Cup quarterfinal defeat, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika pleaded for compassion.
That’s not to be confused with a plea for leniency. He’s had enough of that.
The pugnacious former backrower followed through on his vow to stand aside if Australia didn’t win the title, confirming Sunday that he won’t seek to renew his contract.
He made it public less than 24 hours after a 40-16 loss to England, coached by his former Randwick clubmate Eddie Jones, at Oita. The 24-point margin equaled England’s record for biggest win over Australia and extended its record run to seven wins against the Wallabies since the last World Cup.
Cheika was typically feisty when asked post-match about his intentions.
“Mate, I will be honest, it is a cruel, cruel world nowadays when you are asking that question two minutes after we’ve been knocked out of the World Cup,” Cheika responded in a news conference. “And if you find it inside you, to find a little bit of compassion for people who are hurting, to just ask the more relevant questions, because I will tell you, I came here with only one thought in my mind about winning here and that thought has just disappeared now.”
Cheika said he’d inform Rugby Australia when he’d made up his mind, “they don’t need to know today. It’s not going to kill them.”
Criticism of Cheika’s tenure escalated in the wake of the loss, particularly Australia’s lag of pragmatism in attack — sticking with a running brand of rugby at all costs rather than accumulate points when offered.
A Fox Sports critic said the tactics highlighted a strategy that lacked intelligence, but not passion. Cheika’s approach to the job was divisive.
Veteran flyhalf Quade Cooper, who missed selection to the World Cup squad, wasn’t sad to see his former coach go.
“If he actually cared about Aus rugby he would have done it a while ago,” Cooper posted on Twitter.
Cheika said he carried no emotional baggage, adding that he’d left himself with no real choice.
“I had no regrets about making the call, but yes I would love to stay on,” he said. “I put my chips in earlier in the year (when) I told people ‘no win, no play.’
“I’m the type of man who is always going to back what he says, and I knew from the final whistle. But I just wanted to give it that little bit time to cool down, talk to my people and then make it clear.”
The 52-year-old had some parting shots for the sport’s administrators, saying “It’s no secret I’ve pretty much got no relationship with the CEO.”
Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle responded in a statement Sunday describing Cheika as a “passionate and experienced coach.”
She acknowledged Cheika’s early success after being hired “at a turbulent time” in 2014 and transforming an embattled squad into World Cup finalists within 12 months and being voted coach of the year in 2015.
“He cares deeply about the Wallabies and the game of rugby, and always set out with the aim of making Wallabies fans proud of the team’s performances,” Castle said.
After a review of Australia’s performance in 2018, Rugby Australia appointed Scott Johnson and Michael O’Connor as Wallabies selectors and changed some management structures around the team.
Cheika said he found those changes “a little bit difficult at times.”
He’ll finish with 34 wins, 31 losses and two draws from 67 tests at the helm, although his record since the 2015 World Cup was 23 wins from 51 tests and Australia’s ranking slipped to No. 7.
Yet he said he’d never actually considered he’d be leaving his post until the last 24 hours.
“That’s the way I am, I’m able to make those cutoffs around situation or the environment,” he said, “I’m able to stay focused inside of what I’m doing and then when the other situation appears I’ll deal with it then.”
“I’ve never coached as a job,” added Cheika, whose contract expires on Dec. 31. “I’ve always coached for thrill, for the pleasure, so I haven’t really thought about what I’m doing next.”
New Zealander Dave Rennie is among the candidates expected to be in line for the job.
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