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Cheika makes promise to hit ground running


Spiro Zavos

Dashing ... David Campese is a proponent of running rugby.

Dashing ... David Campese is a proponent of running rugby. Photo: Supplied

IT WAS a small gesture that has large implications for a better future for the Waratahs and the Wallabies.

Here we are at NSW Rugby Union headquarters for the announcement of the new Waratahs coach. Pens are poised and the cameras are rolling. But before the new chairman of the Waratahs board, Roger Davis, introduces Michael Cheika, he acknowledges the presence in the audience of Peter Crittle.

Some context is needed here. Two years ago, the Waratahs held a forum for supporters to discuss the woeful play of the side. A burly, white-haired man of a certain age stood up and made a forceful analysis of what was wrong with the Waratahs “win ugly” philosophy. No one on the panel, not the Waratahs CEO, the coach Chris Hickey or any of the players had a clue who the speaker was.

He was Terry Curley, a legendary Waratah and Wallaby and a keeper of the faith in the running game. So it was a sign that the organisation was going back to basics when Crittle, a former Waratah and Wallaby, and president of the NSWRU from 1993-1999, was publicly recognised.

Without being too precious, the gesture by Davis to express his pleasure at Crittle's attendance reminded me of the custom of acknowledging the traditional Aboriginal custodians before meetings held on their ancestral country. Crittle, Curley, the Ellas and David Campese and many others are the keepers of the faith in the famous Waratahs running game. They deserve to be honoured. But, unfortunately, in the professional era they have been disregarded.

The good news for supporters and the franchise is that Davis keeps the faith, too. He was a Waratah, a Wallaby and a Rhodes Scholar. He is now a successful businessman who sits on 10 boards. At the media conference, he explained, in a cogent and convincing manner, the reasons why Cheika was the unanimous choice of the board.

“We believe he is the right man,” he said, “to embrace the Waratahs' great tradition and ambition and develop a strong and successful culture that embraces all our supporters, partners and stakeholders.”

Cheika understood the Waratahs heritage, Davis insisted. And he had a history with Leinster of guiding a team to success while playing attractive, spectator-friendly rugby.

Is this right? Well, Cheika played over 300 games for Randwick, winning seven premierships in the era of the “Galloping Greens”. He coached Randwick to the premiership. This suggests a familiarity with the running game. He has won the Celtic Cup and the Heineken Cup as a coach in Ireland. The best indicator of success for a coach is past success.

Cheika made it clear, too, in his answers to the media that the Randwick/Waratahs style, with forwards playing with a “bit of dog” and the backs having a go with the ball in hand, was the style he hoped to impose next season. Cheika said he wanted the Waratahs job because he loved coaching sides to play attractive and winning rugby.

This going back to the future by the Waratahs is timely and necessary for wider rugby reasons, aside from the commercial needs to have a winning side. In next year's Super Rugby season teams will be playing to a new use-it-or-lose-it regulation. Once the ball is at the back of the ruck, it will have to be played within five seconds.

Halfbacks won't be able to stand over the ball like meerkats trying to work out any imminent danger. Nor will they be able to toe the ball back into a ruck the way Ruan Pienaar does for the Springboks.

The regulation is already in place in the New Zealand ITM provincial championship. Attacking sides are scoring some sensational length-of-the-field tries, with defences struggling as play moves quickly from one ruck to the next.

The traditional Waratahs running game should flourish under the new regulation, if Cheika can get the players fit enough to play it. And a successful Waratahs team should morph into a Wallabies side winning in style, a win-win for Australian rugby.

5 comments so far

  • I hope Cheika is as good as his word. As a Waratahs supporter I would much prefer to see (AKA: pay to watch) them playing in a cavalier style than what they've done for the last few years.

    The Outback
    Date and time
    September 22, 2012, 1:27PM
    • They need more than fitness - they need to be able to pass, catch, run & kick (but not too much), all with the skill level that a professional rugby player should have, but which has been missing from Waratah play for way too long; get out of the gym and on to the park to hone those basic skills and the Tah's will be worth watching again.

      Date and time
      September 22, 2012, 2:19PM
      • Cheika seems like a coach to be reckoned with and I wish him every success with the 'Tahs which could be his biggest challenge. He has a reputation for not suffering fools so he could be just the ticket. Much has been made of his "Galloping Greens" background where it was the attractive play by the backs that got the attention but the somewhat underrated Randwick forwards were always up for it and also contributed strongly to the Greens success. If he can successfully get that type of 15 man game going it'll be a real boost for the game in this State.

        Date and time
        September 23, 2012, 7:19AM
        • Well, well, doesn't that make it 8 coaches since the inception of super rugby for the Waratah's?. Must be a record for any Super franchise. To me that looks like there is a lot of
          problems at management level, that really needs to be addressed. Then again,over the years,
          that has always been the problem, that doesn't want to be resolved.

          Orange via Rotorua
          Date and time
          September 24, 2012, 4:51PM
          • I've been patiently waiting for the announcement of the new Tah coach. Got to say that I'm delighted with the appointment of Michael Cheika. He is making all the right noises, so let's see how that translates on the paddock, in the stands and throughout the community. I for one will be giving the bloke a fair go and throwing my support behind him 100%. One of his first challenges is to get our fitness and skill levels up to speed. Then if the tactics, selections and strategies are sound and produce good solid 'no prisoner' style Rugby, I can see the fans returning in droves. Carn the Tahs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            Bill Blinky
            Bellingen NSW
            Date and time
            September 26, 2012, 7:10AM

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