Michael Cheika has denied Australia are in “disarray” heading into the clash with England at Twickenham despite dropping Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashely-Cooper for breaking team rules by inviting women back to their hotel after the 9-6 loss to Wales.
Both were expected to feature in the final match of a season that has seen Cheika under severe pressure after just four wins in 12 tests, but the head coach is adamant this action will make the squad stronger.
Beale and Ashley-Cooper were sanctioned after the breach of team protocol was raised by captain Michael Hooper and the leadership group including David Pocock, Allan Alaalatoa, Samu Kerevi and Nick Phipps. The two experienced players had invited three women back to their Cardiff hotel room a fortnight ago after the Wales loss. It has emerged one of the women was Ashley-Cooper’s sister-in-law while the others are believed to be her friends. Reports suggest the women were out of the hotel by 10.30pm but team rules state guests are not allowed in players’ rooms.
Cheika said: “I think ‘disarray’ is a little bit harsh mate. This is equivalent to someone being late or missing a curfew. If anything it’s a team that has got clarity on where it wants to go. Maybe not perfect now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming to be the king of anything. We’re going to cop a heap of grief – probably a little bit more after today for sure – but you’ve got to love it. You can’t help but enjoy that.
“The leadership group came to me earlier in the week and asked me to deal with it in a way I thought was appropriate and I thought this was the appropriate way. We have had an inconsistent season because we have often taken shortcuts this year when we have needed to go harder and get to the well a little bit more and dig a bit deeper. Some might consider it a bit too harsh, the leaders showed a lot of courage coming to me to point it out because they want to set a standard here. The lads were very apologetic, they realised their error and they have been trying to help the other players get ready for tomorrow’s game.
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“We got together after the Argentina game in particular and said we needed to get tougher on the little things. I would say we are eight tenths of the way there overall. To get nine that little bit we need to cut out all of those shortcuts and even though this was a minor thing, if you keep a grey area there then it gets bigger so I may as well make a stand on it and go from there.
“There have been a lot of good things around what’s been happening inside the team this year. We’ve been under a heap of heat and we’ve stayed very solid, we’ve stayed together. We’re able to still make strong decisions where it may have been easier to say, “well here are a couple of great players, let’s make sure they’re in the team because we need a win at all costs”. I think we’ve stayed very solid and we’ve just got to take out some of the shortcuts that plague many teams and be 100% – we’re going to go and do the hard road and put in everything we can to get there every single time. There’s a lot of good stuff inside this team and you’re going to see it tomorrow. “
Captain Hooper said: “Obviously we’ve got a huge game here tomorrow, and then we’ve got some time off so that gives a lot of players and staff time to reflect. Reflect on some of the course of action and things that we’ve done this year. Really draw on these occasions and use them going forward. It would be foolish to wipe this stuff clean and start a new year, this is stuff that we’re going to take into next year and be something that’s really worthwhile.”
Ashley-Cooper made his first start for Australia in more than two years against Italy last weekend having left the Waratahs in 2015 to join Bordeaux-Begles in the Top 14, before joining Japanese side Kobe Steelers in 2017.
Before Beale joined Wasps in 2016, he had a long list of off-the-field problems which came to head in March 2013 when Beale was fined Aus$40,000 and suspended following a punch up with Melbourne Rebels team mates Cooper Vuna and Gareth Delve.
He was suspended for a second time in seven weeks by the Rebels for breaking an alcohol ban, however, Beale was selected to play for Australia against the British and Irish Lions. A year later an ARU code of conduct inquiry found him guilty of a serious violation over an image and text he sent and was fined Aus$45,000. The charge followed a complaint from former Wallabies business manager Di Patston against Beale.
At the end of last season in England, Beale headed back to Australia to bid for a place in the Wallabies squad for next year’s World Cup in Japan.
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