Former Australia coach Michael Cheika has blasted outgoing Wallabies selector Michael O’Connor as “not qualified to be commenting” after he claimed their dire 2019 World Cup was “always going to end in tears”.
Cheika quit in October after Australia’s humiliating quarter-final exit against England, drawing the curtain on a five-year reign that started strongly but ended in criticism.
He has remained largely silent since, but spoke out after O’Connor told the Sydney Morning Herald this week team meetings were “awkward” and Cheika’s strategy confusing.
“Being a selector for Australia is a prestigious position,” Cheika, now a consultant with rugby league side Sydney Roosters, told the Rugby Australia website late Wednesday.
“I think it shows the disregard for it when that person’s talking like that about stuff that’s close to the team and is not really qualified to make those comments.”
O’Connor — part of a three-man selection panel with Cheika and rugby director Scott Johnson — claimed some players “quietly” told him they had reservations about the team’s strategy “but they weren’t strong enough to go to the coach and say ‘hey listen, we disagree’.”
He added that he was “disturbed” at the poor results he was witnessing at training.
“When you look back on it: what was it?” O’Connor, who played both rugby league and union for Australia, said of Cheika’s World Cup gameplan.
“That new attacking style he was going to bring to the Wallabies, it was so secretive … I don’t know. It was almost like a scam.”
He added: “It was always going to end in tears.”
Cheika’s tenure was marked by a successful 2015 World Cup campaign in which Australia reached the final, losing to the All Blacks.
But the final 18 months were much tougher and he admits he barely had a relationship with the Rugby Australia hierarchy.
“At a certain point sometimes where the line is crossed on what the truth is you have to stand up and say, ‘This is not right and that person shouldn’t be talking like that’,” he said of O’Connor’s criticism.