Wallabies coach Cheika feels fans' ire after test loss
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Wallabies fans have a right to feel disappointed but not angry about the team's heavy defeat in last weekend's first Bledisloe Cup test against New Zealand, coach Michael Cheika said Thursday.
Cheika said he received hate mail since the Wallabies' 54-34 loss to the All Blacks in Sydney as disgruntled fans expressed disgust at one of Australia's worst-ever losses to New Zealand.
Anger was likely made more intense by the fact that Australian rugby is at one of its lowest ebbs, beset by the poor form of its Super Rugby teams and by administrative gridlock in the face of a range of off-field challenges.
Rugby is rapidly bleeding support in Australia, losing the battle for audience share with the other football codes, Australian Rules, Rugby League and soccer.
The Wallabies face the All Blacks again in Dunedin on Saturday.
With a win, the All Blacks can secure the Bledisloe Cup for the 14th-straight year and raise further questions about the depth and quality of Australia's playing stocks.
Cheika has assured fans they will see a better Wallabies performance this weekend after a week in which he and his fellow coaches have addressed defensive weaknesses evident in Sydney. The All Blacks over-ran the Wallabies, scoring six tries to lead 40-6 by halftime.
They quickly added two more tries in the second half and led 54-6 after 58 minutes. It was only a lapse in concentration and loss of structure by the All Blacks that allowed the Wallabies to rally and score four tries in the last 30 minutes.
While they conceded more points to the All Blacks than ever before, Cheika's Wallabies were able to avoid a record losing margin and to save themselves from even greater recriminations.
But Cheika revealed on Thursday that some fans were still aggravated enough to find his email or phone number and contact him personally.
Cheika made the mistake in June, when one fan posted a particularly virulent criticism of the Wallabies coach on Facebook, to ring that fan and to remonstrate with him directly. That seems only to have encouraged other fans to take their complaints to the coach.
"I have certainly had some of my own hate mail to deal with," Cheika said. "I am not sure how they get my email address but they happen to, or a phone number. But you have to roll with that stuff mate, you have to deal with it.
"There's only one way that can change. Nothing that happens from Monday to Friday. The only way these things change is on the field."
Cheika said fans had a right to be disappointed but that should not spill over into anger.
"No one should be angry," Cheika said. "People can be disappointed. Anger is a different emotion and I have heard a lot of anger and stuff around from people who might be bitter about it or whatever.
"I am not sure why you would be angry because it's your national team. You'd be disappointed, 100 per cent.
"As Wallabies, we have to change that on the field and that's the only place to do it."
Cheika resisted making widespread changes to his lineup after last weekend's loss. He has made one change to his forward pack, recalling lock Rob Simmons, and two backline changes, the most significant of which is the replacement at center of Samu Kerevi by Tevita Kuridrani.
Cheika may hope that addresses the defensive weaknesses so obvious in Sydney. But it is unlikely to do so. It was the Wallabies' complex defensive structure that failed in Sydney, not any individual.
The All Blacks have made only two changes, one of which is forced by an injury to prop Owen Franks. In the other, hooker Dane Coles returns after a nine months absence because of concussion to play his 50th test.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen expects the Wallabies to produce an improved performance.
"I will expect them to be a lot more physical than they were last week," Hansen said. "They'll be hurting so they'll be hungry and desperate."