WINNING the Grand Slam for the first time in 32 years will not fix Australian rugby’s problems, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has declared while calling on the game’s warring factions to unite.
In a revealing interview with the Daily Telegraph on the eve of Australia’s opening spring tour Test against Wales, Cheika believes Australia has “eaten itself” in search of perfection and wants the bitterly divided identities of the code to unite by next year and save rugby from its downward spiral.
Several well-known rugby officials including Brett Papworth, Nick Farr-Jones and Alan Jones recently banded together to write a letter criticising the ARU’s lack of community support, exposing further rifts between those who administer the game and those who operate on the ground level.
LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH CHEIKA HERE
With television ratings and match attendances declining, Australian rugby is at an alarming juncture, and Cheika says not even winning all of their Tests on the tour will solve the underlying problems.
“It would give us a lot of pride back home, but I would say this; those differences would still be the same, you can’t paper over it with a Grand Slam,” Cheika said.
“We were in the World Cup final last year, and you have the same issues brewing underneath.
“Those underlying issues won’t be solved or papered over with wins here and there.”
This has been a dire year for Australia by any measure, with the ARU facing backlash from some of their most famous former stars, and the Wallabies losing seven of 10 Tests.
Cheika addressed the off-field and on-field issues here.
OFF THE FIELD: THE DISCONTENT
“Australian rugby has eaten itself because a lot of the times we want everything to be perfect,” Cheika said.
“We want the playing style to be perfect, we want all the results to be perfect, all the off-field to be perfect, and we set it up so it’s got to be like Wonderland, and life’s not like that.
“No team’s like that. You even can talk about the team that’s best in the world, they’ve even had their own off-field problems.
“I don’t know why we search for that perfection, we should enjoy the imperfections of the game just as much as the perfections.
“I see the bigger picture for rugby as not as much the results of the national team, I think it’s the unification of the game, and people to stop having a go at each other between club and state and national.
“And get all the people who love rugby; the stakeholders, the participants, all those people together. You’ve got a good brand in the game itself.
“Once all these people join together and really support the game across the board and there’s respect at all levels I think we’ll be powering.
“We don’t need to be the most popular sport in Australia, we’re never going to be.
“But we’ve got a great group of traditional participants and supporters and volunteers, and also a lot of people interested around the fringes.
“If there’s league fans or AFL fans, we can be the second-favourite sport because we play as a national team so many times a year.
“When the Socceroos are playing I’m supporting them, even the AFL when they went to play the international rules against Ireland, I’ve been there for the game, I’m supporting them.
“To expect to do that, we need to get all of our people, the great rugby supporters across Australia, participants and players, all believing in the one thing again.
“It’s definitely possible, it needs a really strong element of compromise and respect and understanding, but if people will really want it to happen, it can happen.