SYDNEY – Under-siege Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is safe from the axe, Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle said Thursday despite admitting "universal frustration" at the team's dire run of results.
Cheika has faced a mounting backlash at home from dismayed fans and media with just three wins from 11 Tests this season, including a 9-6 loss to Wales in Cardiff last Saturday.
There has been growing speculation that defeat this weekend to Italy -- a side they have not lost to in 17 matches -- could be the final straw.
But Castle said Cheika was contracted through to the World Cup in Japan next year and retained Rugby Australia's backing.
"At the end of the day, Michael's contract is through to the end of the World Cup. We've said that publicly and we continue to support that stance," she told Australian media from Europe.
"There is a review at the end of every year. There's no doubt that that's become even more important because of our performances.
"But the review will identify the areas we need to focus on as we move towards that very important World Cup next year."
Before heading for a one-off Test in Japan and then Europe, Cheika appeared before the Rugby Australia board to present his plans for the lead-up to the World Cup and won continued support for his coaching team -- Stephen Larkham, Nathan Grey and Simon Raiwalui.
Castle admitted the results were not good, but said it was a close call against Wales and it could have gone either way.
"Universal frustration. You know the effort's there, you know the focus is there. It was a tremendous arm-wrestle that could have gone either way," she said. "It certainly wasn’t a game we were far away from. We could have ended up with the win.
"I know no one is more frustrated than the players themselves and they'll be looking to turn that around this weekend."
After their match against Italy in Padua, the Wallabies wrap up their European swing against England at Twickenham later this month.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)