Michael Cheika’s life as an international coach flashed before his eyes when he was asked about the Highlanders’ penalty try in their Super Rugby semi-final win over the NSW Waratahs.
Cheika, who coached his final game for the Waratahs in Saturday night’s 35-17 loss in Sydney before taking up the Wallabies’ role exclusively after juggling both gigs, was quizzed about the crucial decision in the 58th minute at Allianz Stadium.
The fiery coach has a six-month suspended SANZAR ban hanging over his head for verbally abusing a cameraman in Durban last year, which could potentially could bar him coaching the Wallabies if he criticises officials.
Cheika gave a subtle reminder of it to those at his media conference.
Patrick Osborne looked set to score, with the visitors leading 20-17, when Waratahs flanker Jacques Potgieter clocked the winger with a high shot as the Highlander was reaching for the line.
A measured Cheika, whose Wallabies begin their Rugby Championship campaign next month, took his time before responding with his thoughts on the incident.
“Obviously, I have a big gag on my mouth on what I can and can’t say, but I know I haven’t seen many head-high tackles 30 centimetres from the ground,” Cheika said.
The decision was sent upstairs to the television match official before on-field referee Craig Joubert took control and made the final call.
“I think the referee, he was a bit dubious, but the linesman was very adamant, so I think he took his advice. That’s the way they operate as a team of three, so the decisions were made like that and we’ve just got to live with it.
“But let’s also be mindful of the fact that, yes those decisions went against us, but the key areas where we needed to exert pressure – that being the lineout and the ball from the lineout – we weren’t able to manage.”
Highlanders co-captain Ben Smith had no doubt the right call was made.
“I have seen it right throughout Super Rugby if a guy comes in with a swinging arm like that and cops someone on the head, then he has to be taken out of play,” Smith said.
“If you take him out of play, Patrick Osborne scores that try. So I had no doubt that was a penalty try.”
In the end, the Highlanders scored five tries to one and the result would have worse for the Waratahs if Lima Sopoaga had his kicking boots on, with the five-eighth missing a couple of penalty goal attempts and two conversions.
Ben Smith missed his one shot at goal when he failed with his conversion as Sopoaga underwent a concussion test early in the first half.