Greg Growden
Matt Toomua right fit for No.10 jumper
Greg Growden
November 26, 2014
Tevita Kuridrani unfortunately will not feature against England due to injury © Getty Images

The Wallabies can't win.

The overseas junkets remain, but the Australian Rugby Union razor gang continues to decimate the grassroots by cutting off all funding in Sydney. The ABC, due to budget cuts, won't show Sydney's Shute Shield competition next year - and so goes one of the last bits of rugby on free-to-air television. Then to top it off the Wallabies are compared to the 2005 team, which lost it way overseas with the end result being that their coach, Eddie Jones, was sacked when the team returned home.

Whoa, hang on, there … the Wallabies are going bad with scope to get worse, but they're not going that bad.

It was inevitable there would be comparisons with 2005 after the Wallabies lost to France and Ireland. Still this mob has some way to go before they are in the same deep, dark drain as Jones' beleaguered crew. The Wallabies have had some pretty ordinary seasons in recent times. But few match a diabolical 2005 that included seven successive Test defeats.

The chaos started with Matt Henjak becoming the first Wallabies player in 39 years to be sent home from a tour, following a nightclub incident in Cape Town during which he threw ice in a dispute with team-mate Lote Tuqiri. Team management attempted to cover up this bad player behaviour until it was exposed by a South African newspaper.

Saracens coach Eddie Jones, Saracens v Newcastle, Guinness Premiership, Vicarage Road, Watford, England, September 21, 2008
Eddie Jones © Getty Images

In the middle of this chaos, a Cape Town newspaper discovered a completed player questionnaire left behind in a restaurant. Despite being a bit of a joke, it was highly embarrassing - revealing that the Wallabies wouldn't actually mind eating other, especially Matt Dunning, if they were forced into cannibalism after a plane crash.

The South Africa coach Jake White inflamed the issue a few days later, blaming the rugby league element in the Australian team for the Wallabies losing their way.

And the Wallabies coach was not helped when it was revealed that several high-ranking ARU officials had been secretly receiving private information from a team staffer. This was treacherous behaviour, but several other ARU staff members and three assistant coaches were also asked to put in writing their problems with the coach. Three senior Wallabies had convinced the ARU that Jones had to go - with two even threatening to quit Test football if he remained in the position.

Jones had made the mistake of isolating himself. A highly knowledgeable coach, he was too much of a one-man band - which meant he had few allies to call upon for help.

The turmoil within the ARU did not finish with Jones' sacking. Then head of the ARU, Gary Flowers, was also under pressure to keep his job. Having been accused of feeble leadership, Flowers used the Jones issue to his advantage to insert a wedge between the coach and the union powerbrokers.

It didn't entirely work.

The ARU initiated a major internal investigation into information being leaked to the media. Staff telephone records were checked, but the investigation succeeded only in embarrassing those who had instigated the purge by showing they were among the best media leakers of all.

We move on almost a decade, and it is clear that in some areas, including the media, the ARU has learnt absolutely nothing. But at least this time around, we won't see an Australian coach sacked when he returns home. Michael Cheika is safe - if only because he was handed a s--- sandwich in the first place. He gets appointed three days before the team leaves, and is straight away expected to be a miracle worker. Good luck!

Michael Cheika looks on, Barbarians v Australia, Killick Cup, Twickenham Stadium, November 1, 2014
Michael Cheika © Getty Images

Also the cash-strapped ARU, having been forced to pay out Ewen McKenzie, Di Patston and co, know they can't afford to get rid of Cheika. The coach has a great 'get-out' clause in his contract - and it would cost the ARU at least seven-figures to move him on.

Cheika needs time and space, and, as he said this week, a bit of patience from the punters. He is toying with danger by calling on spectators to give him some slack, because the withering Wallabies fan base has been waiting a long time for something, anything, to latch onto. But last Saturday there was a glimmer of something positive. Sure, they may have lost against Ireland, but they lost with a bit of panache. There was a sense of the old Australian spirit.

Unlike the grim McKenzie era, when the coach often ignored his soldiers, the players are smiling again, and allowed to use their head.

The forwards remain a mess, and at scrum-time they are too unpredictable to worry opponents constantly, but something is starting to brew out wide. If given enough good ball, they can score, and with panache.

The return of Matt Toomua to the backline was crucial in Dublin. He gives the Australian attack a sense of proportion, as shown against Ireland, and he has the ability to calm all the hot heads around him. He has the necessary poise and understands backline play. Stephen Larkham has taught him well.

I continue to believe it is a ridiculous waste that Toomua has not been tried at No.10. As shown by his performances with the Brumbies, Toomua could well be the right pivot for next year's World Cup campaign; he understands time and space, and never appears overwhelmed by the occasion.

So there's one clue to the future. And Cheika knows the other: he has to get the forwards up to speed; he has to revitalise a feeble mob. He did it at the Waratahs. Now it is the Wallabies' turn. Let's just say it will be a brutal off-season for both the Waratahs and Wallabies.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Football

  • Cricket

  • Rugby

    • Days
    • Hrs
    • Mins
    • Secs

    F1 - Singapore GP

  • OtherLive >>

    Snooker - China Open
    Tennis - Miami Open