Time For The Wallabies To Shine in Europe, But Is It Cheika Mate?

Michael Cheika is the man who has to been trusted to clear the chaos left after Ewen McKenzie quit as Australia's head coach

When Australia led 28-22 going in to the final minute against New Zealand on October 18th, it seemed like the Wallabies were about to take a giant stride forward in their World Cup preparations. Staying true to form, though, that one step forward turned into two steps back in almost the blinking of an eye.

Malakai Fekitoa crossed three seconds from full-time and Colin Slade kicked the match-winning conversion as New Zealand snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Worse was still to come though for the Australian’s, as head coach Ewen McKenzie announced that he was resigning almost immediately after the defeat. It was a mess that has became all too familiar to Australian Rugby fans, who are now looking towards their spring tour to Europe with an overwhelming feeling of apprehension.

Cheika Takes Charge

Michael Cheika is the man who has to been trusted to clear the chaos that McKenzie left behind, and has acted swiftly in laying down the law. Australian rugby has fending off a whirlwind of controversy for a while now, which stemmed from the Kurtley Beale-Di Patston incidents that has caused the Australian Rugby Union to come in for stick for its handling of the situation. Cheika’s first major decision in charge was to omit Beale from his touring party for Europe, in the hope that the controversy he caused will stay behind with him.

Back To The Game

With all of this controversy going on, it’s easy to forget that there is a fair bit of rugby to be played in the not so distant future. Australia kick off their tour of Europe with a Test against the Barbarians at Twickenham on November 1st before facing Ireland, Wales and France before returning to Twickenham to face England on November 29th. The Australian team may have their internal problems, but if leadership issues can be healed, or at least patched up in time for the first Test, they have a better chance to take Europe by storm this spring. As is often said though, ‘if’ is the biggest word in sport and there is a chance that Aussie turmoil could go from bad to worse.

Cheika’s blend of passion and knowledge for the game should make him a big hit with fans and players alike. His vibrancy provides stark contrast from previous coaches Robbie Deans and McKenzie and it might just be the breath of fresh air that the current squad need.

He is arguably the perfect man to take the Wallabies on a tour of Europe too, with the majority of his coaching career being done on the continent. His coaching adventure has taken him from Padova in Italy to Leinster in Ireland before he spent two years in France as coach of Stade Français. As well as developing himself as a coach, he has also developed a winning mentality in his teams. He oversaw a Heineken Cup win in 2009 with Leinster and also won a Super Rugby title on his return Down Under for the Waratahs. His record speaks for itself and the role of head coach of the Australian team is a role he can grow into just like every other job he’s held.

Are His Squad Up For The Challenge?

If Australia can make playing rugby their main business again then they have a squad capable of challenging at the World Cup next year. With the likes of Will Genia and Israel Folau in their ranks Australia have genuine world class talent, and as they proved in their latest match against New Zealand, they have the ability as a team to mix it with the best sides in the world.

They may need some time to gel under Cheika with his methods different to that of his predecessors. However, if he can harness the potential in this squad, Australia have more than enough about them to take Europe by storm with the Tour finale against England looking like a typically mouth watering clash. Harnessing the skill in the squad is one thing though; helping ease any lingering internal problems will be the main task facing Cheika in the immediate future. Can Cheika make his mark on the Aussie dressing room in time for the first Test in November? Only time will tell.