Australia coach Michael Cheika has been recognised for his rapid transformation of the national team with the World Rugby Coach of the Year Award at Sunday night’s World Rugby Awards dinner in London. Cheika took over the Wallabies’ reins less than a year out from the World Cup, on the eve of the team’s 2014 Spring Tour, which they finished with one win from four matches. Splitting the role with the NSW Waratahs head coaching job during the Super Rugby season, Cheika worked to build a whole squad mentality with regular player briefings during the season.
Cheika led the Australians to their first Rugby Championship win since 2011, including a victory over New Zealand in Sydney, putting opponents on notice in the lead-up to the World Cup. Overall in 2015 Cheika has taken the team to 10 Test wins from 12 matches this year, including an unlikely run to the World Cup Final, in which they showed character in a gripping encounter. It’s an achievement that Cheika has said was not even on his radar when he was offered the job last year, but one he believed he could help work towards.
In that run, the two-time world champions had to face six of the world’s top 10 teams, three of those before even making it out of the pool stages. As well as pure match results, Cheika influenced the change of eligibility laws this year, bringing France-based players Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell back into the fold as well as allowing Dean Mumm and Kane Douglas to join the World Cup squad after signing with Super Rugby franchises for 2016. Cheika’s charges have been vocal in their praise of him through the tournament, with vice-captain Michael Hooper saying it was impossible not to buy into his passion for the national team, despite having never donned a gold jersey.
The World Rugby Coach of the Year award is further recognition of his success as a mentor, in a career that has seen him become the only coach to win top domestic awards in both the southern and northern hemisphere competition. Signed as Aussie head coach until at least 2017, the national job will be Cheika’s sole focus in 2016 and beyond.
Photo credit: Rodrigo Vergara/UAR