Rugby Australia board member Phil Waugh has spoken out about Michael Cheika’s comments about his non-existent relationship with Raelene Castle after quitting as Wallabies coach.
Cheika’s public admission came just days before it emerged that he had a public verbal altercation with Rugby Australia’s Kiwi CEO Castle at a corporate event at the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, just days before the Wallabies’ crucial World Cup clash against Wales.
Former Wallaby Morgan Turinui had to step in to break up the “ugly” argument, which revolved around Castle going behind Cheika’s back through director of rugby Scott Johnson to request players to attend the function.
“Those comments were rather disappointing and pretty raw,” Waugh told the Sydney Morning Herald. “There is plenty of emotion after exiting a World Cup and then fronting the media within 24 hours after that … it’s disappointing to hear that.
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“I think in any employee-employer relationship there are moments when you would be challenging each other and it’s important for that tension to be healthy tension and get the best out of each other.”
Cheika also had a rocky relationship with Johnson, who came on as director of rugby and Wallabies selector after a 2018 review of Australia’s poor season, something that didn’t sit well with the 52-year-old coach.
Waugh defended Johnson’s appointment and the board’s decision to stick with Cheika last year despite a string of poor performances.
“What essentially happened was that we put as much support around Cheik to help him and the team succeed,” Waugh said. “In his previous role without the director he was pretty much looking after everything and so by actually freeing him up it allowed him to focus as much on the team and their performance. I think it’s a sensible structure. I think he saw that and it was disappointing to see his comments on Sunday.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 24, 2019
“[Last year] there was really rational and sensible conversations around what is the best way forward, not just for the Wallabies, but Australian rugby in general. At the time there was a lot of speculation around termination but the reality is we looked at the different options that were available and then made the decision to support him and the appropriate support around him as well as we could have in the World Cup.
“We felt that the best option was to support Cheik and see through the commitment we both made. We saw some pretty good results. The guys beat Argentina in Brisbane and then beat the All Blacks in Perth and there was a lot of optimism going into that Eden Park game [that Australia lost 36-0].
“It’s easy in hindsight to say a decision should have been different. It’s a tough decision to make and I think everyone is somewhat comfortable we went through the right process to get the decision.”
Waugh, who played 79 tests for Australia including two World Cups, believes the Wallabies must not place too much emphasis on World Cups.
“The focus on four-year cycles is very dangerous,” Waugh said. “I think we need to support the game and support Australian rugby by winning consistently every year and not just every four years.
“There is a lot of focus on World Cups and in a lot of ways organisations look at four-year cycles but I think it’s critically important to win between World Cups and if you do that, you set yourself up to perform at the World Cup.”
In an open letter published on athletesvoice.com.au titled ‘My farewell to players and fans’, Cheika apologised for the Wallabies’ failed World Cup campaign, saying it “hurts bad and it’s going to for a while yet”.
“Since the final whistle in the quarterfinal last weekend, a lot has been said in living rooms, bars, newspapers, letters and on social media … I want to personally thank you all and also say that I am truly sorry we could not go one better in this World Cup than we did in 2015,” Cheika wrote.
“As the head coach of the Wallabies, I want you to know that I feel that weight of carrying all of your hopes and I love the responsibility that comes with it.”
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