Cheika posts harsh note on wall, gives Wallabies the message
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Michael Cheika is undoubtedly passionate about the game of rugby, which is why the Wallabies' coach decided to pin some "confronting" criticism from a likeminded but disgruntled fan to the wall of the Australian team's dressing room.
Australian rugby is in the doldrums after the Wallabies lost to Scotland in a Sydney test for the first time ever on the weekend, following a dreadful Super Rugby season for the five domestic franchises. The Australian Rugby Union is in turmoil, too, with an emergency meeting called for this week in a bid to end months of uncertainty over which of the Super Rugby clubs is going to be dropped in a tournament revamp in 2018.
The Wallabies and the ARU have attracted plenty of criticism but Jack Quigley, a self-described 29-year-old rugby player, coach and referee from northern New South Wales state, hit a nerve with a scathing Facebook post that apparently summed up the feelings of thousands of fans.
In the roughly 800-word post on Saturday night after Australia's 24-19 loss, Quigley accused the players in the national team of lacking passion in the game and their jerseys. Having asked for the message to be delivered to coach Cheika and the squad, he wanted 15 minutes to address the team before another test this weekend against Italy.
"I'm a nobody. My opinion on rugby counts for ... (nothing) in the grand scheme of things," Quigley wrote to the players. "But I've got one thing. Passion. Passion for the game of rugby. And for the Wallabies. And you can't deny me that. Despite your best efforts.
"I love you, but I'll be blunt. The Wallabies are a disgrace."
Quigley outlined in the message that he had to go to work feeling sick on Sunday because the Wallabies' performance "hurt me."
"I'm not going to turn this into one of those 'they earn so much money they should do better' rants, because I know that our playing stocks are limited. Severely. But I have ... this sick feeling in my stomach that stems from the utter disappointment that is my national rugby team."
Quigley, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday, conceded he'd had a number of beers while watching and reflecting on the test loss and before he penned the missive, and was surprised at how much attention it received by the time he woke on Sunday. The post quickly attracted more than 40,000 likes and was shared thousands of times.
Cheika was among those who read the message, and called Quigley to talk about the appraisal.
"I think that's important, that you talk to the fans," Cheika told reporters in Brisbane on Monday. "I don't think it's too far away from what some of us were feeling as well.
"When we come out to (news conferences) and say 'we want to make the fans proud,' it's not lip service. We do. I just spoke to him about some of the things that we're feeling and what we want to do and what's going on in the background."
At the 2015 World Cup, the Wallabies beat England and Wales in the group stage but had a narrow quarterfinal escape against Scotland en route to losing the final to the New Zealand All Blacks. Their record has slumped since then, and Australia risks slipping behind Scotland in the world rankings.
Cheika said he didn't agree that his players lacked passion or with the criticism of flyhalf Bernard Foley's goal kicking, but said the message hit home.
He said he stuck the message up in the team room at Ballymore in Brisbane, where the Australians are preparing for Saturday's test against Italy, so the players could all see it.
"We put the poster up on the wall," he said. "I think that was pretty confronting for a few of the guys who hadn't seen it because it was pretty heavy in some ways.
"But I think that's the message there and then because I spoke to him, he'll be up at the game cheering loud."
Fullback Israel Folau, who scored two tries against Scotland and was Australia's standout player, said he didn't read the message because he had belief the Wallabies could turn their form around.
"It's obviously very frustrating from a supporter's point of view. That's understandable," Folau said. "From a player's point of view, we're working really hard.
"At the moment we know it's not up to standard but we hope the fans stick by us, especially through these times now."