Wallabies coach accused of World Cup ‘scam’
OUTGOING Wallabies selector Michael O'Connor has lifted the lid on Michael Cheika's troubled final months in charge of Australia, saying his side's World Cup campaign was "always going to end in tears".
O'Connor declared players weren't sold on Cheika's "secret", high-risk strategy while selection discussions with the ex-coach were "awkward".
O'Connor was brought in as a selector after the Wallabies had their worst year on record since 1958, winning just four of 13 Tests one year before the 2019 World Cup.
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Then-Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle diluted Cheika's power further by appointing Scott Johnson as a director of rugby.
"Raelene was just hellbent on trying to rein in Michael Cheika … and that was always going to be difficult," O'Connor said.
"He's a particular sort of person, very strong-willed, so that was not easy. Michael wasn't appointed by her. It was a difficult, awkward situation."
O'Connor said Cheika still wanted to take responsibility for selections and would, more often than not, get his way.
That appeared to be especially true at the World Cup where Australia was crushed by England 40-16 in the quarter-finals.
There was plenty of chopping and changing with selections at the tournament - something which fullback Kurtley Beale said hindered Australia.
O'Connor said he agrees with Beale, but also threw responsibility back on the players who he believes should have voiced their concerns about selections - and tactics - to Cheika at the time.
"It was brought up quietly (to me) by a few players that the high-risk strategy (wasn't working) but they weren't strong enough to go to the coach and say 'hey listen, we disagree'," O'Connor said.
"Somebody needed to stand up. We had some reasonably strong personalities but we didn't have a strong enough group. They didn't challenge Michael and the style of footy they were asked to play. There were players in the team that weren't sold on it."
As a selector, O'Connor had no input in strategy, but said he was "disturbed" at the poor results he was witnessing at training.
O'Connor said he had never seen the ball dropped so many times from a national team and was confused by the tactics of front-rowers in particular.
Cheika was attempting to implement a new, attacking style of play but hadn't clued everyone in on what he was trying to achieve.
O'Connor eventually asked Cheika about it, but he wasn't sold on the answer.
"I don't know. It was almost like a scam," he said.
"I always thought with me he was holding back. I always asked what the new style of play was and he told me. I thought there has got to be more than that. I always thought he had something in reserve and he was being very cagey. That's fine. But he didn't. It was always going to end in tears."
O'Connor said Australian rugby needs to move on, saying that he believes it has a bright future under Dave Rennie as new Wallabies coach.