ARU chief Bill Pulver admits it’s a gamble extending Michael Cheika’s contract, but a punt worth taking as he steps up his bid to pin down the Wallabies coach until the next Rugby World Cup.
The ARU made the mistake of adding another two years to Robbie Deans’ tenure in the honeymoon period after Australia’s 2011 Tri Nations triumph before the Kiwi’s reign ended in tears after a disappointing World Cup and home series loss to the British and Irish Lions in 2013.
Pulver, though, says the key point of difference this time around is Cheika’s ability to engineer a cultural shift within the Wallabies that has not only improved on-field fortunes but the game’s image as well.
“Michael Cheika has done a wonderful job. He has put together a wonderful group of assistant coaches and he has galvanised the team incredibly well,” Pulver said on Thursday.
“Their behaviour off the field is just as important as on the field – the alignment with the core values of the game.”
Cheika, who was named international coach of the year after guiding Australia to the World Cup final in his first 12 months at the helm, is signed until the end of 2017.
“I make no secret of the fact that I’d like to add another couple of years to that and he’s made no secret of the fact that he’d like to add another couple of years to that,” he said.
“So that’s a discussion we will have.”
That discussion will take place when Cheika returns from a well-earned family holiday with his wife and four young children.
Pulver admitted “there is always a danger” of the ARU enduring another Deans-like drama if Cheika has his contract extended and the Wallabies flop at the 2019 World Cup.
But the way Cheika’s style and values “have resonated so effectively with the Australian public” gives the ARU reason to be confident things won’t go pear-shaped.
Pulver pointed to Cheika and Wallabies captain Stephen Moore’s gracious manner in World Cup final defeat as evidence of the cultural shift.
“That stuff you don’t turn on one year into another .. it is built into your DNA,” he said. “I think we have got long-term benefit coming.
“The Australian public really enjoyed seeing us win Test matches but they really enjoyed seeing the behaviours out of the team that reflected what they have grown up on and enjoyed from rugby for so many years.
“The Wallabies had a great year. They came up a tiny bit short at the World Cup but they won a lot of hearts and minds.
“Rugby is back at the profile it enjoyed a long time ago – we won 83 per cent of our Tests this year and that is the strongest win rate since maybe the 90s.
“He’s done a pretty damn good job.”