Michael Lynagh believes Michael Cheika is bulletproof heading into next year’s World Cup in Japan even if the Wallabies continue their poor record in Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup clash with New Zealand in Yokohama and on the European tour.
As part of their build-up to the 2019 World Cup, the Wallabies face the All Blacks on Saturday, before heading to Europe for their November tests against Wales (Nov 11), Italy (Nov 18) and England (Nov 25).
The Wallabies go into the Yokohama game having been thumped in the two clashes with New Zealand this season and have lost nine of their last ten matches with the All Blacks.
Having been given the dreaded vote of confidence by the Australian Rugby Union, Cheika appears to have dodged a bullet, but another series of losses will leave him exposed again.
However, Lynagh said: “He will stay because a) there is nobody else and b)there is a financial issue that the ARU wouldn’t be able to meet. So, on both those fronts the logistics of trying to get rid of Michael are not right. You have to ask is Michael the right guy to take the team forward and for me that is the case.
“Over the last two years he has been tinkering with the team, moving people around including putting Kurtley Beale at outside half who hasn’t played there much since school.
“Maybe they are thinking about the World Cup and what happens if Bernard Foley falls over. Is Kurtley the next No.10 – quite possibly he is. Foley hasn’t been the same sparkling player we saw at the last World Cup so the people around him are getting the chance to play with Beale. Obviously we want to be winning, but maybe there is a method to what Cheika has been doing.”
The November tour will allow Cheika to meet up with Will Skelton who has undergone a physical transformation in his second spell at Premiership champions Saracens where he has lost two stones and now weighs in at 21.1st which still means he is the biggest lock available to his country.
Skelton’s fitness has improved and the 6ft 8ins lock is now delivering consistently impressed performances, featuring power running and better defensive reliability. With his current contract ending this summer, it is understood the Australian Rugby Union are interested in bringing him home although their finances are unlikely to match the spending power of Saracens.
Mark McCall has made it clear it is up to Skelton to decide if he wants another lucrative contract with the club which means extending his international exile or return to Australia to add to his 18 Wallaby test appearances – he cannot have both.
World Cup winner Lynagh, who was one of Saracens early headline grabbing signings when the game went professional, has been closely watching Skelton’s transformation in London and said: “I saw him after a recent Sarries game and thought “that jersey is hanging off him!” It is unbelievable but even though he has lost weight he is still a big man – two of me.
“Cheika used Skelton a lot when he was coaching the Waratahs so he knows all about him. Cheika will be impressed with what Skelton has done at Sarries and he will be on the coach’s radar but while he is in England he cannot play for the Wallabies. However, if he goes back and plays Super Rugby and becomes eligible, that has to be a positive thing and the more depth the better because so much can happen before and during the World Cup.
“I imagine Cheika will catch up with Skelton when he is here for the England game. I am sure Skelton wants to be part of the Wallabies at the World Cup and he is currently playing with a very good team and learning a lot. Just getting away can make you a better player and just look at how Beale is a much more mature and complete player having spent time at Wasps.
“Skelton has some real skills and if he is coming at you then you will need your mate’s help which means he draws two or three people towards him which allows him to then off-load. That is a real big advantage for any team and with Sarries missing the Vunipola brothers then his ball carrying and off-loading becomes more important.”
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.