Wallabies lose coach ahead of World Cup

Chris Rattue, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 5 February 2019, 3:11PM
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika (R) and Stephen Larkham (L). (Photo / Getty)
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika (R) and Stephen Larkham (L). (Photo / Getty)

Sacrificial lamb? Scapegoat?

Assistant coach Stephen Larkham, the genius Wallaby playmaker who hated kicking the ball, has been booted out of the Wallabies with the World Cup less than eight months away.

Officially, Larkham's dumping after four years as Australian coach Michael Cheika's attack specialist is portrayed as a parting of the ways involving men with different strategies.

It simply adds to the notion that Australian rugby is in a shambles, and a reasonable theory is that Cheika offered the dumping of Larkham as his own get-out-of-jail card when meeting with a disillusioned Rugby Australia board in December.

It simply took a bit of time for Larkham to be moved sideways, downwards.

Larkham's fall comes after a horror 2018 for the Wallabies, whose slump coincides with the rise of the northern hemisphere powerhouses.

"Ultimately Michael is responsible for the performance of the team," a disappointed Larkham said via a Rugby Australia media release.

"We have differences in attacking strategy and overall game philosophy. We couldn't agree on these key points and it is in the best interest of the team that they receive clear and consistent messages from their coaches.

"I am obviously disappointed with this outcome as I had chosen to pursue the experience of taking the Wallabies through to the World Cup, however I am pleased to be able to continue coaching and contributing to Australian Rugby."

But the Sydney Morning Herald's rugby writer Georgina Robinson reported that "by midway through the (2018 test) season, it was an open secret in Canberra rugby circles that Larkham had very little say in the attacking direction of the team".

If so, Wallaby great Larkham has been bladed from the Wallabies - whose attack has stalled - for something he is hardly responsible for.

Stephen Larkham...in happier Wallaby times. Photo / Photosport

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle has faced one crisis after another since taking over a year ago.

"It's not where we all wanted to be," the Kiwi said on Monday.

"When you've got two coaches with great experience and really good depth of knowledge, whether it be attack or defence, you want to try to work those things out.

"You also don't want everyone to agree all the time, you need challenge and differences of opinions to make sure that with the final outcome you're growing and developing it.

"But ultimately they didn't think the core elements of attack were aligned and they believed, or Michael believed, it was the right thing to do to move on."

Larkham becomes Australia's national high performance coach adviser, but with Castle admitting it was a difficult time for Larkham "personally and professionally".

Cheika himself is on borrowed time. Larkham, meanwhile, appears to have been given a soft job while he tries to find a head coaching role.

Wallabies head of athletic preparation, Haydn Masters, has resigned after four seasons.