Wallabies will be force again come 2019 warns Smith
WRITING off Australia’s World Cup chances on the back of an abysmal Super Rugby campaign would be a huge mistake for cocksure Northern Hemisphere teams to make, according to former England attack coach Brian Smith.
The Wallabies have been handed a favourable World Cup draw with Wales and Georgia in their Japan 2019 group, but Australian rugby is in turmoil amid doubts over the future of the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force.
Stars like Rob Horne (Northampton) and Luke Morahan (Bristol) will join the European gravy train this summer, while on the field Aussie franchises have been humiliated by teams from New Zealand and South Africa, losing all 17 matches to the Kiwis up to round 11 and winning just three of 13 against the South Africans.
Australian woe was compounded by last year’s 3-0 series beating by England, but Smith, now rugby director at the renowned Scots College in Sydney, backs Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika to reignite the nation’s fortunes. Smith, above, told The
Rugby Paper: “Michael Cheika is a very robust character and he will put together a very competitive Wallabies team.
“Don’t worry too much about what’s happening at provincial level because Australia have a relatively easy run of games before they go into the Rugby Championship.
“Those Tests against Fiji, Scotland and Italy will allow Cheika to bed down some new combinations and any team he runs is going to be incredibly well prepared and competitive, so they’ll be in decent shape for the World Cup.”
Smith added: “Cheika inherited lots of guys with long Wallaby contracts but he’s now beginning to shape a team with guys he wants to keep. He’ll pay good money for those players and those he feels don’t offer enough will move on.
“Australia probably made a mistake in going from three to five franchises years ago but once the ARU sort out the Western Force fiasco, Cheika will deal with the dead wood and a few more players will be heading north.”
Smith believes a lack of senior head coaching experience at Super Rugby level has contributed to a string of embarrassing results.
Smith explained: “It’s a cloudy picture here right now. Only a few years ago the Brumbies, Waratahs and Reds all had experienced head coaches in Jake White, Michael Cheika and Ewen McKenzie and were very competitive in Super Rugby, but at the moment those major provinces have taken a punt on good assistant coaches in top jobs and there’s been some pain.
“Stephen Larkham (Brumbies), Daryl Gibson (Waratahs) and Nick Stiles (Reds) hadn’t earned their stripes as head coach before so you can’t expect them to be perfect from season one. You have to let them grow through the pain.”
Robust: Michael Cheika