Cheika keeps job but role reduced

SYDNEY • Michael Cheika survived the axe yesterday but will no longer be given carte blanche in training matters after Rugby Australia recruited Scott Johnson to assume the new role of director of rugby.

The under-siege Wallabies coach will report to his fellow Australian Johnson, who was poached from Scotland Rugby after five years in the same position. Under his charge, the country rose to their highest world ranking of fifth.

He must also work with a selection panel - comprising himself, Johnson and an independent - in an overhaul to halt the team's alarming slide ahead of the World Cup in Japan next year.

Cheika, the 2015 World Coach of the Year, has faced a mounting backlash from dismayed fans and former players after winning just four of 13 Tests this year - their worst campaign in decades.

Despite the dire results and a drop to world No. 6, Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle has consistently backed him.

His coaching team of Stephen Larkham, Nathan Grey and Simon Raiwalui were also retained despite widespread calls for change.

Johnson will also be in charge of the off-field programme, leaving Cheika to focus on coaching.

The fate of Cheika has divided opinion, with Wallabies legend Matt Burke describing his position as "untenable". But he insisted he was still the best man for the job and said that Johnson's appointment would "prove to be the best long-term structure for the game in this country".

Johnson, who last worked with Australia at the 2007 World Cup as an attack coach under John Connolly, will take up his role in March. He will also oversee a new national high performance plan in concert with the country's four Super Rugby franchises.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'Cheika keeps job but role reduced'. Print Edition | Subscribe