Paul Lewis: We should lay off the Cheika-chivvying

By Paul Lewis

Australian coach Michael Cheika. Photo / Photosport
Australian coach Michael Cheika. Photo / Photosport

When we Kiwis do hypocrisy, we do it rather well - like slagging off Michael Cheika for (admittedly among other things) his 'foul-mouthed rant' at last weekend's test against the All Blacks.

One writer published Cheika's lip-read outburst during the test (which had more Fs in it than a flotilla of fluffy, flatulent fireflies fluttering feebly in Florida) in a tsk-tsk way.

Watching Cheika, my first thought was he must've just read Gordon Ramsay's new book: Take two eggs and f*** off.

It also called to mind the old 1970s song by US songwriter-comedian Ray Stevens, The Streak, where Stevens lampooned the naked sprint through the middle of sports events - ho-hum now but bigger news back then: "And I hollered over t' Ethel, I said, "Don't look, Ethel!" But it's too late, she'd already been incensed."

We all had to try really hard to get incensed over Cheika, including concentrating very hard when lip-reading - though he did make it easier for us later when he complained about everything from the ref's treatment of skipper Stephen Moore to Immaculate Conception.

Here's the thing - rugby players have been known to eff and blind a bit; when it's one of ours, we tend to snigger and nudge the guy next to us. But if it's a raging Aussie we are, like Ethel, incensed.

I have to confess a sneaking regard for someone so openly and blindly patriotic in an international sporting context where many coaches do their best to seem as if they are clinging to their objectivity by firmly puckering their rectums. I exempt Steve Hansen from this, of course, as he has perfected such a good line in drollery that the man who once hired PR professionals to help him mend his relationship with journalists now has them all hanging off every word accompanied by that sly smile.

But we've taken against Cheika in a way that surprises me; New Zealanders are rabid sports fans and, even though we still value reserve in our sports heroes as proof they are good blokes or sheilas, you'd think most of us would suss what Cheika was doing last weekend.

It was either deflection or, far more likely, the involuntary reaction of a transparently competitive and patriotic man to a soul-bruising loss - which many of us should understand given the national response to certain World Cup reverses in 2007 and 1999.

It's not like, for instance, the dumb-ass reaction of Irish great (as opposed to just great) Brian O'Driscoll, whose dislike of New Zealand seemed to manifest itself in a series of tweets when, like many other all-seeing nongs, he got all hot and bothered about Owen Franks' eye-gouge-that-wasn't.

Cheika is part of an Australian rugby movement which differs from New Zealand in that we have a knowledgeable rugby population rarely in accord with each other. When the Wallabies shocked John Mitchell's All Blacks in the 2003 World Cup, I spent part of that night in Sydney with a mate who opined the Aussies were much better at aligning team, fans and media as a concerted force.

Dead right - that's why, even before Kane Douglas spoke up to say he hadn't been gouged by Franks, it was obvious that if any crime had been committed the Aussie media would have been full of pictures of the fingernail scratches and damaged eye...It was a storm in an teaspoon.

But we should lay off the Cheika-chivvying. I like his passion and the fact he is unable to restrain himself; some of it may be that with each gormless Wallaby performance, his coaching reputation is heading down the loo faster than an campylobacter curry but mostly, it just looks like a committed Australian kicking against the fickle finger of fate (there's those Fs again...) and the cold truth that the All Blacks are a far better team.

Cheika's outpourings weren't even the daftest thing in the aftermath of the test. The Wallabies looked so cluelessly unable to score a try in the 29-9 defeat by the All Blacks, they precipitated much homegrown media-driven drivel about whether the All Blacks being so dominant is good for world rugby. I mean, really...A large slice of the rugby world already thinks we are arrogant and such twaddle only confirms it.

Excellence is worth watching, QED. These All Blacks are doing what they said they would - raising the level of the game again, as some of the quality passing against the Wallabies demonstrated. There is no need to apologise nor wring our hands about what it is doing to the rest of the world. It is only to be enjoyed.

Cheika will probably keep his job; there is no one else and no one else left to draw from the player pool. In its own way, that's worse than being fired or stepping down - caught in a groundhog day of defeat and defensiveness.

- NZ Herald

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