Rugby Australia must shoulder share of blame for Wallabies Cup failure

OITA -- Wallabies coach Michael Cheika on Sunday confirmed he wouldn't seek reappointment beyond his current contract which expires on Dec 31. but the post-mortem following Australia's Rugby World Cup exit simply can't stop there.

After giving Cheika the green light to continue at the end of 2018, Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle, chairman Cameron Clyne and any others involved in that decision, should also be firmly in the spotlight.

Australia's campaign came to a close in Oita on Saturday night when they were thrashed 40-16 by England in completely predictable fashion in the first of the tournament's quarterfinals.

The Wallabies went for all-out attack against England, as has been the Cheika mantra, but were repelled by an almost impenetrable defensive wall and an opponent that pounced on errors and made Australia pay dearly as a result.

Asked about whether he'd got his side's game plan wrong -- or even considered a tweak that might have at least caught England a little off guard -- Cheika was defiant until what we now know was the end of his Wallabies tenure.

"That's the way we play footy," Cheika said. "I'm not going to go to a kick-and-defend game; maybe call me naive but that's not what we're going to do. I'd rather win our way. That's the way Aussies want us to play."

Is it though? Surely a World Cup quarterfinal calls for tactics that will defeat your opposition on that day, not the same game plan you have been trotting out in one form or another for the past four years. Australians wanted to see their team through to the tournament's final weeks, not see the Wallabies exit and then slip to seventh in the rankings behind Japan.

You can play all the flashy, attractive rugby you like but no-one remembers the tries you might have scored when you exit a World Cup having been beaten by 24 points, no matter how superb Marika Koroibete's effort was on Saturday evening.

Rugby Australia chief executive Castle fronted the travelling Australian media contingent roughly 90 minutes after the final whistle in Oita. And she also stood by her, and the wider Rugby Australia board's decision to retain Cheika for Australia's World Cup tilt after he had led the Wallabies to a 4-9 season in 2018.

"No, I think we did a thorough review at the end of last year," Castle responded when asked whether RA had made a mistake in allowing Cheika to continue. "We looked at the options that we had available to us that could not just think about Rugby World Cup but think about the longer-term options for rugby in Australia.

"We made the decision in appointing Scott Johnson into that role and to think about, yes, the improvements he could bring to the program in the short-term but definitely with the long-term strategy as well."

But following Cheika's revelations on Sunday that his relationship with Castle and Clyne was virtually non-existent, what exactly did the Rugby Australia powerbrokers achieve through that review process? Were they intimidated into letting him stay on or, as Cheika called for immediately after the Wallabies' loss, did they show him some "compassion"?

Or was it simply that they weren't prepared for the financial cost of first paying out his contract, so too the price of finding a new coach as a result of a proposed Cheika departure?

Given what transpired on Saturday night, surely they can't have been impressed by his plan to turn things around. And perhaps the financial strain should have been a cost they were prepared to bear.

After the Wallabies' World Cup exit -- and comments from Cheika like "I'm not sure we've got one of those" when asked about using a tactical kicking game in what were terrible conditions against Georgia -- Australian rugby fans are right to ask whether the decision to retain Cheika was indeed the correct one.

Having watched the 80 minutes in Oita, where the Wallabies had nothing else up their sleeve but for the game plan that has been their staple for the last five years, most would say it was not.

And so the search to find a new coach will ramp up. The one name that keeps bubbling away is former Chiefs coach and current Glasgow boss Dave Rennie.

The New Zealander signed a one-year extension with the Scottish club that will take him through to June of next year, leaving him free to start with a clean slate as coach of the Wallabies the very next month. ESPN understands the interest between RA and Rennie is mutual but no contract has yet been presented.

Rennie's record speaks for itself. He led the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013 and although he hasn't won any silverware with Glasgow, the Warriors have been to the PRO14 final and European Rugby Champions Cup quarterfinals under the Kiwi's stewardship.

And Rennie already has a relationship with Johnson from the Australian's time as director of rugby in Scotland.

Asked whether RA had a specific coach in mind, Castle said: "We have been doing a lot of work to make sure we understood from a market perspective who we think the right coaches could be for Rugby Australia, and who might be available, and so that work has been done, and continues to be done, and so that will be part of the review process."

But what is evident even before this review process takes place is that the Wallabies' World Cup campaign was doomed to fail. Save for an upset win in Bledisloe II in Perth, which of course came against an All Blacks side that played with 14 men for 40 minutes, Australia never had the look of the team that was genuinely going to be competitive with the likes of England, Wales, New Zealand and South Africa.

And so it has proven.

Would a change of coach had resulted in a different outcome in Japan given he would have only had nine months or so -- and little more than three continuous months of solid training -- to overhaul Australia's game plan? That will remain unknown.

But it is reasonable to think that he may have at least ensured his team had a "tactical kicking game" or indeed the ability to change tact when Plan A clearly wasn't working.

Cheika was tied to his attack-at-all-costs game plan despite it having been proven to be fallible, repeatedly, across much of the past four years. And it blew up one last time when confronted with a determined white wall in Oita.

If that was all Cheika put to Rugby Australia when his job was on the line late in 2018, then Castle, chairman Clyne and the rest of the board involved in making that decision should be considering their positions.

Just as Cheika took less than 24 hours to consider his.