Captain Michael Hooper has been grilled by reporters as the Wallabies touched down on home soil after their early exit from the Rugby World Cup.
A 40-16 loss to England in the quarter-finals confirmed the end of Michael Cheika's reign as coach and the blame game is being played about who is at fault for letting Australian rugby slide to the point where the national team was briefly overtaken by Japan in the world rankings.
After announcing he would not be seeking reappointment, Cheika made the explosive claim he had "no relationship" with Rugby Australia (RA) CEO Raelene Castle and "not much" with chairman Cameron Clyne.
Asked if it's possible for a team to function when the coach doesn't have a relationship with the CEO, Hooper could add nothing more than: "I don't know."
While Cheika's revelation has shocked Aussie rugby fans, Hooper said the coach did well to hide his issues with those at executive level from his players, giving him credit for not letting that become a distraction.
"I know relationships aren't always straightforward, but whatever they did they kept it pretty well hidden, so from us players that's pretty good credit to keep that away from us," Hooper said.
"We had a job to do and they didn't put that in front of our face."
Hooper heaped praise on Cheika for his passion, saying the coach made him a better person as well as a better player. But the ex-Waratahs mentor has come under fire for constantly changing up his starting XV, particularly in the halves, and deploying a naive game plan that never stood a chance against England.
Hooper refused to blame the coach's tactics or team selection for the Wallabies' demise.
"I think we weren't able to execute at big moments. Our game plan was solid, we believed and we bought into it 100 per cent," Hooper said.
"Talk about game plan … we'll do a full review still of that game (against England).
"We had full confidence in our 31 (man squad) so if someone had gone down with injury … we would have had to deal with that.
"We lost someone for three weeks with suspension and we had guys come in and fill a hole there.
"We knew there could be changes … that came in the form of selection more than anything else.
"We're training together for hours and hours during the week, we just didn't get it right on the weekend."
Hooper said his relationship with Castle is fine and suggested he and other senior players would be consulted as powerbrokers try to find a new coach and rebuild.
Speaking to reporters at the airport, Cheika said he would like to see his job taken by another Australian.
"It's not up to me so I've got no say in it but I think we should be backing and supporting Australian coaches wherever possible," he said.
STARS REACT TO FORMER TEAMMATE'S JAB
Hooper and fellow flanker David Pocock were also quizzed about former Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper's crack at Cheika after the World Cup exit.
When Cheika announced he would not be seeking reappointment, Cooper tweeted: "If he actually cared about Aus rugby he would have done it a while ago."
Hooper brushed off the tweet, saying: "Not giving it any air." Pocock said it was disappointing to cop "potshots" like that from outside the inner sanctum but admitted his team had to cop any criticism on the chin.
"As players we always find it disappointing when people on the outside are taking potshots, because there's a huge amount of work that's gone in and Cheik's the kind of guy who goes in to bat for his players," Pocock said.
"Behind the scenes, he's always wanting guys to be able to just focus on their rugby.
"You can't please everyone. Everyone's got different opinions — I've got a huge amount of time for Quade, we go way back.
"People are going to say what they want, especially when you fall short like we did.
"There's no excuses, we've just got to cop it on the chin, we weren't good enough on the night."
CASTLE RESPONDS TO CHEIKA CLAIM
Earlier, Castle responded to Cheika's revelation he had "no relationship" with her as the fallout from a disastrous World Cup continues.
Former RA boss John O'Neill told The Sydney Morning Herald Cheika's claim was "disturbing" and Castle elaborated on their relationship in an interview with veteran Australian rugby commentator Greg Clark on Fox Sports last night.
She said changes implemented in response to a run of disappointing results, such as installing Scott Johnson as director of rugby above Cheika and introducing Michael O'Connor as a third selector, were partly the reason for the breakdown between the CEO and coach.
"Yeah I think it surprised me," Castle said when asked about Cheika's comment on the pair's relationship.
"At the end of the day, the CEO-coach relationships are never straightforward. Having gone through a number of them myself, you understand the ups and downs.
"We put some changes in place that Michael expressed he was not 100 per cent comfortable with. But at the end of the day, what I can tell you is the board continued to support Michael and gave him all the support he needed going into this World Cup."
Pressed further on when exactly their relationship fractured, Castle said: "We put some changes in place at the start of the year which is probably not the ideal scenario.
"Those changes were important to make sure we had stability in rugby in Australia going forward."
NSW Waratahs and Wallabies star Nick Phipps agreed the changes that reined in Cheika's power contributed to added tension between the coach and his bosses, which then impacted the players.
"It (having three selectors) was always going to be trouble and the board probably knew that at the time," Phipps told Macquarie Sports Radio.
"Cheik and Scott are both loud, big, powerful men so them going at it behind closed doors, the players never really knew that was going on.
"You could tell towards the end a lot of things were happening that weren't as congruent or Cheik's ways as to earlier seasons, ultimately he said that made it feel very hard."
Castle said changes had to be made because results were so poor in the lead-up to the World Cup. Cheika's winning record stands at 50 per cent but a quarter-final exit is the worst performance by a Wallabies side since 2007, while last season four wins from 13 Tests represented Australia's worst year since 1995.
Castle said the results were "not acceptable" and backed the decision to change things up ahead of rugby's showpiece event.
"If you look at the results we'd had previous to that, there was a situation where a 50 per cent win rate for the Wallabies was not acceptable and we had to have a look and see what it is that we could do, considering that we'd appointed two previous Wallabies coaches in a crisis situation. That's not an ideal play and way to appoint two coaches," Castle said.
"We wanted to make sure that we had time that we could go through a process. The changes we made were about setting us up for the longer term and now we have an opportunity with Michael not being reappointed to go through a process of appointment and through a proper process."
Castle said she and the board still had to accept some responsibility for the World Cup horror show but is optimistic Australian rugby can return to its glory days, and is hopeful a review, led by Johnson, will pave the way for a successful rebuild.
"The communication of the whole rugby structure, working together and not fracturing is incredibly important." Castle said. "It's the first time rugby in this country has been able to have an aligned high-performance system and we know, with Scott Johnson leading that, we will get better outcomes in the longer term."
CHEIKA'S REVELATION 'DISTURBING': EX-RA BOSS
While Cheika has been in the firing line, with many blaming him for the Wallabies not performing up to scratch in the World Cup, former RA CEO O'Neill said Castle and the board needed to accept some of the blame for keeping the coach in the job even when results were not good enough.
"Ultimately the buck does stop with the board and CEO," O'Neill told the Herald. "People with experience in this space know it's a collective responsibility and thus the accountability is shared widely.
"They had the opportunity (to implement changes last year).
"Reports that the coach and CEO relationship was non-existent is disturbing. After all, the coach reports to the CEO. The head coach can't ever be untouchable or unchallenged. The CEO is the one who has the job of managing the coach."
Castle told The Herald: "CEOs and head coach relationships are always very challenging and (it's about) trying to find the right working relationship and certainly with the changes that were made at the beginning of this year. Sometimes head coaches find bit difficult to deal with those changes inside an environment."
Wallabies legends like Greg Martin, George Gregan, Rod Kafer, Phil Kearns and Andrew Slack have been among the chorus of voices to emerge since the Wallabies' loss to England, calling for change right the way through Australian rugby if it wants to regain its position as a superpower in the sport.