Scotty Stevenson: The truth about Michael Cheika, Steve Hansen and Eddie Jones


With a Rugby Championship looming, you can hardly blame All Blacks coach Steve Hansen for firing a shot across the Tasman Sea in the wake of England's series win over Australia, but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika could do with a lesson on how to read between the lines.

Commenting on the series, Hansen remarked that Cheika had "let Eddie have a free rein to the point where he's actually allowed Eddie to bully him in the media. I don't know if that's because they know each other that well that there's a pecking order from the old days ... but that's gone on to the park, hasn't it?"

Hansen isn't saying anything we didn't already know. The truth is, Cheika has been completely owned by Eddie Jones over the past fortnight - the latter showing a remarkable and masterful control of the media and the message. Jones, who has an inexhaustible supply of self-belief, has his own England press corps eating out of his hand, while the Australian contingent are happy to run the headlines he continues to supply them.

Cheika's response to Hansen's comments was to play the victim, to say "it's easy to kick blokes when they are down". The shame is, Cheika can hardly start playing the victim now because Eddie Jones sewed that spot up the moment he arrived in Australia.

Jones has claimed to have been offended by the host broadcaster, Fox Sports, insulted by former Wallabies, all while baiting others to join the fray, and - my personal favourite - harassed by Australian Customs officials. He made a point of calling Cheika the world's best coach, too. In short, he has used the lowest tactics he could muster to claim the highest ground. And he's been aided and abetted at every turn.

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Why is that? Well, because he's damn entertaining, that's why. Jones is the PT Barnum of world rugby coaching, a man for whom Barnum's famous saying rings true: "Without promotion, something terrible happens... nothing!" Or maybe this is the more relevant line: "Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung."

The clowns on Saturday were the Wallabies, their endless routine of dropped balls and pratfalls handing a limited England side the victory and series. Ringmaster Jones, ever the showman, instantly sought comparisons with the All Blacks, lighting the flaming hoop, and, sure enough, the Lions came roaring into the marquee.

"Oh no," said Eddie. "I could never coach the Lions." Really?

A hint here: if you beg him to, he might just reconsider. It's all very clever stuff. He doesn't want the job but he'll quite happily pick the team and, by the way, in case the guy who gets the job is struggling to figure it out, there should be 15 England players in it.

Jones made no secret of the fact he wanted more mongrel in the England team. He was open about that fact in his first week in the job, and his appointment of wild child hooker Dylan Hartley served only to reinforce his belief in bringing the hard edge back after Stuart Lancaster's deeply analytical approach.

In this, Jones has proven to be a masterful man manager, further evidenced by his selection of Chris Robshaw a year after telling the world that he thought the flanker and former captain wasn't much chop. "A six and a half at best," were his words at the time but, forget that, Robshaw and Eddie are besties now and he'll defend Robshaw and the rest of his players to the ends of the Earth.

In this way, Jones and Hansen are very similar. Both are ruthless selectors but each does his criticising of his own players behind closed doors. Both are World Cup winners, both are masters of the media and both are ambitious men who want to coach the world's best team.

Currently only Steve Hansen can claim to be doing the latter. Which is why his shot across the Tasman may not have been directed at Michael Cheika at all. If Cheika could read between the lines, he just might realise that the message was for Eddie Jones. And the message was, don't try that with me.

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