Thank goodness that’s over, and Michael Cheika can get back to just being a “good old mate” of Eddie Jones again.
How it must have pained the old scrum colleagues from their Randwick days to be jostling against each other at a Rugby World Cup.
From being on the same side, dressing-room besties in the 1980s, to being sworn enemies at least for a week. It can’t be good for anybody’s health.
It sure as hell looked like being a grim state of affairs for Cheika, who whenever the television cameras honed in on him in the stands at Oita Stadium, looked to be living out a personal nightmare.
A thump of the desk here, a look of desperation there. Surely he’ll be on his way to pastures new once the dust settles on this thumping 40-16 England victory over Australia.
He dramatically called for “compassion” from a journalist after the match, when asked if he would be moving on.
But the Wallabies are going home. They have lost seven straight games to England. Cheika’s contract is up. You do the maths.
“I was supposed to get this done for the people here and for Australians. I’m so disappointed,” Cheika said, seemingly close to tears.
“The better team won. I was supposed to get this done for the people here and for Australians. I’m so disappointed.” @wallabies‘ Michael Cheika reflects on his side’s loss tonight #RWC2019 #ENGvAUS #RWCOita pic.twitter.com/f0T2IevFXr
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 19, 2019
Cheika clobbered the table in front of him early in the game after Australia gave away a scrum inside their own 22, and five minutes later his team were two tries behind, the estimable Jonny May marking his 50th cap with a double.
As Brexit debating went into overdrive in the UK Parliament, England certainly needed no left-wing amendment. They were happy, too, for this particular May to crack on with getting a deal done.
The Leicester flyer dashed in by the corner flag both times, firstly from close range after a patient build-up and on the second occasion when David Pocock handed over possession and Henry Slade charged from midfield before kicking through for England’s bolting number 11 to gather.
Australia had an 11 who could dash for the line too, and when Marika Koroibete took advantage of tremendous work from Reece Hodge and Jordan Petaia to bound down the left for a try that Christian Lealiifano converted, it was a one-point game early in the second half. Hope for Cheika and his men, but not for long.
Prop Kyle Sinckler exploited a gap in Australia’s defence to trundle through for a swift riposte, and Australia were then booted out of the game by the outstanding kicking game of England captain Owen Farrell. Anthony Watson piled on the agony with another try. Mercifully the TV cameras allowed Cheika to wallow in private grief this time.
FULL TIME here in Oita.
Thank you to all of our fans for your incredible support throughout our #RWC2019 journey!
— Wallabies (@wallabies) October 19, 2019
With Jones and Cheika, there was a sense of soap-opera histrionics about their pre-match sparring, the possibility that this apparent long-standing great friendship – Jones described Cheika as “my good old mate” ahead of this game – may not be quite all it was cracked up to be.
Australians have made a roaring trade from exporting soap operas for global consumption, of course, and it was no great stretch to imagine Jones and Cheika squabbling over day-to-day mundanities in, say, the long-running Neighbours saga.
Mulish to a fault, you could equate them to that garrulous hepcat Lou Carpenter and Salvation Army field marshal Harold Bishop, long-time “good old mates” whose own friendship was put under intense pressure by another rivalry for the ages.
Just as Carpenter and Bishop fought tooth, nail and tuba solo for the affections of Madge Ramsey, so there was one thing standing between Jones and Cheika’s old pals’ act on Saturday: it was a day to go hard or go home.
Erstwhile team-mates, Cheika had a beef this week about Jones bringing Aussie Ricky Stuart into the England camp over the past week. Why, Cheika seemed to question, are so many leading Australian coaches working with England teams, whether in rugby, cricket, indeed anywhere across the sporting spectrum?
The swaggering, wily Jones had struck another blow at the heart of Australia. Cheika was rattled by the master wind-up merchant, ensnared by another supremely executed trap.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 19, 2019
The irony amid Australian post-match hand-wringing is that Jones is fancied in some quarters to take over from Cheika for what would be a second stint with the Wallabies. He was described as “the obvious solution” – as well as an “arch little pinprick” – in a Sydney Morning Herald editorial on Saturday morning.
Jones has often said he fancies retiring to Barbados once his time with England is up, yet he said the same during his Japan tenure.
The reality is that he lives for days such as this.
Australia need the sort of rebuilding job England faced after the last World Cup. They have lost to England and Wales, where four years ago hosts England were beaten by Australia and Wales.
Whether Australia could tempt 59-year-old Jones again is a different question. They need him surely more than he needs them.
With a Cheshire cat grin for the cameras and a brief pat on the back for Cheika, Jones is all about England for now as he turns his focus to Yokohama and a semi-final next Saturday, another coach and another team in his sights.
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