Rugby World Cup Final: Michael Cheika faces rebuilding his Australian side again
As New Zealand cracked open the World Cup champagne on Saturday, the beaten Australians' head coach Michael Cheika looked to be bottling up a jeroboam's worth of emotion after a handful of questionable refereeing calls went the All Blacks' way in the final.
But it would have ruined a good deal of success in righting a lurching Wallaby ship if Cheika, who has a dark history of disciplinary suspensions in three previous coaching roles, had spat out accusations of third-party ire and theft.
"They've been No 1 for a while," Cheika said, stoically, referring to New Zealand. "I think we've made good ground over the last 12 months in that area. We're lucky that we get to play them regularly in the Rugby Championship, and the more we test ourselves against the best, the better we will get."
Cheika was appointed in charge of the Wallabies almost exactly a year ago, and by picking Kurtley Beale in his first squad for the European tour in November 2014, he began rehabilitating a brilliant talent after a ban arising from a sorry, sordid episode of lewd texts making fun of the team's female business manager.
Fast forward 12 months - which in August included Australia inflicting New Zealand's solitary defeat of 2015 in Sydney during the abbreviated Rugby Championship - and on Saturday there was the 26-year-old Beale as one of the kingpins in Australia's final effort, replacing concussed Matt Giteau.
Not even a high score on the celebrity fan-ometer as Kylie Minogue waved her Wallaby scarf and Rupert Murdoch canoodled with Jerry Hall in a hospitality box could spare Australia a 21st loss in the last 26 meetings with their trans-Tasman adversaries.
Proud as the men in green and gold are of painstakingly ridding the perceptions of a bunch of booze-fuelled larrikins, several Wallabies are now skipping off to pay cheques now, joining clubs overseas. The likes of Beale, Michael Hooper and David Pocock will be expected to take the lead in a reshaped squad next year, which gave extra poignancy to Cheika's expression of gratitude to the once errant utility back.
"He's been outstanding on this trip with his consistency in training every day," the coach said of Beale. "He's probably been one of our best, even though he's had to mix it up between starting and being on the bench."
The landmark "flexible contracts" created by the Australian Rugby Union allow Israel Folau, the full-back whose 99 metres of carrying in the final were a belated hint of the brash ability sadly curtailed by injury earlier in the World Cup, to join NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in a short-term arrangement. Who are they? A big-paying Japanese club, that's who, and the fly-half Bernard Foley and loose forward Ben McCalman are following suit before the trio return home for Super Rugby. Otherwise France continues to be the preferred stopping point for the Aussie gravy train. Will Genia is off to Paris today to link up with the league champions Stade Francais in the Top 14 and European Champions Cup. The 27-year-old scrum-half agreed his move before another amendment to Australia's regulations that permits players with more than 60 caps to be picked for the Wallabies from abroad.
"My family's the reason why I made the decision to leave," Genia said. "This Australia team is going places and there's a lot of guys still hanging around, a lot of talent still left at home, that can fill spots of guys moving overseas like myself. This group's been part of changing perception of the Wallabies and transforming it into the team that it is now. My lasting memory will be that I was a part of the change."