I was there, at the momentous rugby event at Eden Park last Saturday night.
I am not referring to the thrilling rugby the All Blacks dished up against the Wallabies for its 18th straight record win (37-10). I am referring instead to the Press Conference by the Aussie coach and captain, Michael Cheika and Stephen Moore that followed the match, and which has become the real story of that night. It will be remembered more for its infamy than anything else.
It is not the first time Cheika has provided headlines away from the field. The last time the two sides met in Wellington back in August, Cheika’s own media and ex Wallaby Clyde Rathbone questioned Cheika’s ability to coach the Wallabies. Cheika was also livid at the referee post-match in Wellington.
At Eden Park, I was stationed at the back of the media room where I was directed to stand, and directly in front of the big cameras of mainstream media. I was ready to film.
Usually, the victorious team is first in the Press room after the match. Except this time, the All Blacks was entertaining Prime Minister John Key in their dressing room. That was relayed to us by Juli Clausen, NZRU’s Senior Media officer. Juli is also Samoan, and was seconded to Manu Samoa at the last World Cup in the UK.
Shortly afterwards, in filed Cheika and Moore. As is usual, Moore sits to the left of Cheika at the long table in front of the room.
The first question in these media sessions is usually reserved for the home media of the team at table, Australia in this case. It was one of the senior Aussie journos that kicked off the session.
Cheika was asked to comment on the “no-try ruling” that was the “turning point” of the game, referring to Henry Speight’s try that was ruled out for Wallaby interference on defence. With a shake of the head, a sign of things to come, Cheika answered the question.
“I don’t know mate. Obviously I can’t say anything because they’ve got you by the throat. I’ve never seen shepherding from behind before.”
Another question from the Aussies, about the “pleasing improvements” of the team this year.
Cheika acknowledged the improvements but the pain in his heart tainted his answer somewhat.
“We had a lot of phases and made a fair few line breaks. It’s been coming slowly this year. We set the platform up front to play a bit more footy. Our backs made a lot of breaks (but) we undid it with reckless turnovers.”
All lame so far.
Then the key question came. It’s the Kiwi media’s turn, and the question was a simple one that needed to be asked. Cheika was asked to comment on what he thought of the All Blacks achievement in winning 18 test matches in a row.
It was the trigger that Cheika needed.
“Mate, I don’t think they want my comment anyway. Well, you know, they don’t! They dressed us up as clowns today, so they wouldn’t really want our comment. I don’t think they’d respect our comment anyway, and we won’t make one.”
TV One’s Andrew Saville who was stationed just behind me sought clarification. Cheika chimed in before Saville finished his question.
“It was on the front page of the paper. They dressed us up as clowns, so …”
Legendary Kiwi journalist Phil Gifford interjected at this point, “But the All Blacks didn’t do that!”
Cheika continued; now attacking the source of his frustration, “Well, I think it’s the same guy who reported the supposed bug, isn’t it, as well? Where did that come from?”
“That’s the way it is. That’s fine! But they don’t need my comments.”
Cheika was pressed whether he thought it was a mark of disrespect.
He was not sure of what to say, “Umm ...”
Stephen Moore interjected, “Yes, I do mate. Absolutely!”
Cheika continued, “They put our crest on. That’s our crest, it’s no big deal really, but at the end of the day you asked me about the comment and as I said, if we get back to the question, I don’t think they want my comments, or our comments. They’re not interested. “
Moore did not want to comment too much on it, but he commented anyway, “When I think of the history of the jersey and everyone that has put it on. I think it’s disrespectful. But they won the game and they’re the ones laughing. So what do you do?”
Another Kiwi inquiry, whether the Wallabies would be sharing a beer with the All Blacks tonight?
“Not that I know of. We haven’t been invited or anything. We had a reception after the Wellington game, but we haven’t been invited.
TV3’s Ross Karl was next to ask, whether the relationship between the two teams is strained.
Strange answer from Cheika given the thread he has set, “I wouldn’t say so. I would say they’re on top and we’re nowhere at this stage.
I mean, that’s the relationship between the teams.”
He continued, “I would say what got me offside was the accusation that we tried to bug them. Like, really? Hello! Honestly? They had that the whole week and then they tried to drop it (on game day). That’s what caused that bad for me. That showed a lack of respect that stuff, because I wouldn’t even be smart enough to get that stuff organised. I’m too busy working on my own team.”
Yet they hold on to it until game day. They don’t need to do that anyway. They’re too good anyway. It’s only that they want to try to either needle me, or us or whatever.”
Cheika remembers the question, “I wouldn’t say it is friendly. You’re not supposed to be friendly with the opposition, are you?”
But would you share a beer with them tonight, “Of course I would if he (Hansen) invited me. It’s not personal. It’s team against team.”
The fully-charged media session lasted a mere eight minutes but it was full of headlines, none that the All Blacks could match.
My recording of the Full Cheika/Moore Press Conference has had over 70,000 views on my YouTube channel and over 100 comments. Such is the pull of Michael Cheika’s entertaining comments in that room. In comparison, the All Blacks P.R. video has attracted only 2,000 views, and two comments.
Not that Cheika was ignorant of the All Blacks’ success or blind to his own team’s failings. He qualified his comments to the “no-try ruling” with his own ownership of the errors the Wallabies made on the night.
“Before any of that we’ve got our own mistakes. We made a lot of good play and turn the ball over and allowed them to score. We’ve got to own those first before we start thinking about the turning point and all that business. Because, we can only call it a turning point if we lost by less than one score.”
“At the end of the day, someone’s got to own those mistakes as well.”
He was also generous of the All Blacks’ success, but clearly tainted with his annoyance at being clowned, at not being invited to the All Blacks dressing room for a beer, and still that bugging accusation back in August in Sydney.
“They’re an unbelievably good team, they’re so strong. Their bench is very strong. They come on and finish games. The way they play the game is outstanding. No doubt about that. But I don’t think they need our comments.”
“They’ve achieved what they’re achieving and they’re going really well. Full credit to them.”