SYDNEY, Australia - Wallabies coach Michael Cheika on Tuesday won the backing of his bosses who pledged their support ahead of next year's World Cup despite a dismal run of defeats deemed "not acceptable".
Australia have now lost six of their past seven games, and ceded the Bledisloe Cup to New Zealand for the 16th consecutive year after a 40-12 hammering in Auckland at the weekend and a 38-13 thrashing in Sydney the week before. The poor form has put pressure on Cheika, but Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said he continued to have the support of her and the board.
"He is contracted through to the World Cup and he has a plan - we are across that plan and we are comfortable with it," she said on the rugby.com.au website. "But clearly you can't just ignore the performances -- they're not acceptable. So it's about what we can do to support him as an organisation to make sure he has what he needs to make sure the Wallabies are successful as we move into that World Cup."
Asked to pinpoint an area she felt needed improvement, Castle nominated the Wallabies defence, which has leaked 78 points in two games. "There are parts of our game that haven't performed, particularly around defence," she said. "So we will be having conversations around that. But I don't think it's about changing what we've got. It's about what else can we bring."
World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer said fitness was also an issue, blaming the players and not the coaching set-up for their recent woes. "I'm sure they're not fit enough," Dwyer, who led Australia to their first rugby World Cup title in 1991, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "In Sydney there were people walking with half an hour to go. You can't really pin that on the Wallaby coaching set-up."
Cheika has been adamant that the Wallabies' fitness levels had improved. "We were getting comments out of the Wallaby camp that fitness had definitely improved and skill level had improved. Well, that didn't appear to be the case," said Dwyer.
But the former flanker, who was a mentor to current England coach Eddie Jones when he moved into coaching, also backed Cheika as the right man for the job. "My opinion is he is the coach and that's that," said Dwyer.
"It wasn't too long ago when he was being hailed as a saviour. He can't have gone backwards I wouldn't have thought," he said, adding that it was "misplaced" to call for Cheika to be sacked. Australia's next game is against South Africa in Brisbane on September 8.