Why Waratahs should sign Michael Cheika to replace Darren Coleman as insurance for Joe Schmidt, Noah Lolesio’s value to Wallabies

Why Waratahs should sign Michael Cheika to replace Darren Coleman as insurance for Joe Schmidt, Noah Lolesio’s value to Wallabies


The anguish on Darren Coleman’s face said it all. His time as Waratahs coach is coming to an end.

Had the Waratahs got up against the Rebels, it could have been different.

But five defeats from their opening six matches, which comes off a similarly poor start to 2023, is something unacceptable for Australia’s biggest breeding ground.

It’s a cruel game at times and Coleman wasn’t helped by the loss of three of his strongest forwards this season – Angus Bell, Ned Hanigan and Charlie Gamble – but the Rebels lost a few also too, including Andrew Kellaway and Josh Kemeny.

Then the embattled Super Rugby franchise lost Lachie Anderson and Jake Strachan in the opening half, forcing Ryan Louwrens onto the wing. Nonetheless, they still got up.

At the heart of the Waratahs’ issues were their struggles up front, with 19-year-old Jack Barrett brought in to start following the loss of Bell and three other front-rowers.

Yet, the inability to control the tempo and execute simple skills was alarming against a Super Rugby side that has gone through the ringer over the past four months.

The Waratahs shouldn’t act on Coleman like they did Rob Penney, unfortunately there’s no coming back for the affable coach.

Darren Coleman’s tenure with the Waratahs is on shaky ground after his side lost their fifth match from their opening six games. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

That shouldn’t mean he’s banished from Australian rugby, but with a Lions tour around the corner and a home World Cup three years away, attention must be turned on getting the best possible coach at the Waratahs.

The issue is there aren’t too many Les Kiss’ around to call up.

Even still, there are candidates out there.

Jason Gilmore is the inside bet, with the Australia A coach Coleman’s defence coach. He has also taken over much of the day-to-day coaching on the field.

He’s also popular within the playing group at the Waratahs. But is that always a good thing?

Andy Friend is back in Australia and is one of the most experienced coaches in Australia. He’s respected amongst the new leadership at Rugby Australia, including soon-to-return consultant David Nucifora, but others still question his credibility despite a relatively successful tenure with Australia’s sevens team and Connacht.

Nathan Grey is the Junior Wallabies coach and been to two World Cups as a defence coach. But how much coaching is he doing on a day-to-day basis?

Stephen Hoiles is highly regarded but is relatively young in his coaching career.

The outsider, who is gaining some significant momentum, is the franchise’s only Super Rugby champion coach Michael Cheika.

Cheika is on the hunt for a new job, having left Argentina after guiding the South Americans to the World Cup semi-finals.

For most international coaches, a return to a domestic league would be viewed as a step backward but could it be seen as the best way back to the Wallabies?

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika brought Israel Folau to the Waratahs and helped his transition to rugby union. Could he do the same with Joseph Suaalii? (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

With Joe Schmidt only contracted until the end of the Lions series, having Cheika back in Australian rugby with his gravitas, would give the code a measure of insurance.

He would also be able to give the game some oxygen, because when Cheika talks people listen.

And having been the coach who helped Israel Folau transition to rugby, guess who is arriving at Daceyville in 2025? Joseph Suaalii.

Dumped Wallaby shows the value of goal-kicking

Noah Lolesio isn’t the quickest nor the best defender, but what the 24-year-old can do is slot goals under pressure.

He’s shown that for both the Brumbies and the Wallabies. Remember his goal kicking against France in 2021? Lolesio was only in his second season as a professional at that time.

Once again his goal-kicking prowess shone on Saturday, as the Brumbies playmaker landed four from four against the Reds in Brisbane to be the difference between the two sides. He is now kicking at 85 per cent for the season.

Noah Lolesio is kicking at 85 per cent in 2024 and helped the Brumbies scrape over the line against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium on March 30, 2024. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

In contrast, Tom Lynagh missed a relatively straight-forward penalty and Lawson Creighton struck the post from a conversion attempt. Five points were left out on Suncorp Stadium.

When Joe Schmidt puts his squad together, he will consider the sharp shooters in the country because for a nation that needs to get back to winning, taking the points counts.

His main two rivals for the No.10 jersey – Ben Donaldson and Carter Gordon – are kicking around the 70 per cent mark.

Tongan Thor’s response shows his worth

Taniela Tupou is the new Quade Cooper.

Why? Tupou has taken over Cooper as being the most maligned player in Australian rugby.

Some love him, others get frustrated at him.

Both players also suffered a couple of major injuries and neither hit the ground running immediately.

Cooper wasn’t the same player when he returned following his devastating knee injury in the bronze medal match against Wales in the 2011 World Cup. It took years for him to discover that less is more.

Tupou is a completely different player, but he’s also someone who is razzle-dazzle as a person and player.

On Friday, Tupou came off the bench to be the difference for the Rebels.

Taniela Tupou came off the bench against the Waratahs to guide the Rebels to their third win of the season. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

He scrummed the Waratahs off the park and scored a try.

But it was his little tip pass that showed some of his maturity.

After all, he could have scored before his try in the 71st minute but instead passed the ball on near the Waratahs’ line.

Tupou can do things that most others in world rugby can’t.

He’s the size of Uini Atonio but more explosive than the French tight-head prop.

What the La Rochelle prop has over Tupou however is maturity and years of experience. That will come for Tupou, but some patience is required.

Tua shows what’s needed for the Wallabies

Who is given the Wallabies captaincy and plays in the halves under Schmidt against Wales has and will continue to provoke lots of discussion, but the No.12 position is an area that will take more time to settle on.

With Samu Kerevi not getting any younger and playing second division rugby in Japan, it’s unlikely he will be called up to play against Wales. That doesn’t mean he won’t be called up later, but now is the time to look elsewhere and build some depth.

The issue is who to turn to?

Isaac Henry’s injury was a big blow, meaning Hunter Paisami is someone firmly on the radar. Lalakai Foketi is back playing and will be looked at too.

But elsewhere the options are skinny. Literally.

In Tamati Tua, the Brumbies have a strong, direct running inside centre.

Tamati Tua once again had a strong match for the Brumbies and gives them a power runner in the midfield. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

He’s not yet international quality, nor is he Wallabies eligible, but he’s the type of player that Australian rugby needs.

He runs hard and generally gets over the gain line, helping give the rest of his backline some space.

Every top rugby nation has a gain-line dominant player in the midfield, but the Wallabies currently only have one: Kerevi.

Rugby Australia last year looked past the Crusaders’ Levi Aumua, who was eligible for the Wallabies.

It was a head-scratching decision and one that could haunt them.

The value of sevens in Australia

For years, the sevens program was considered an afterthought in Australia. It was one of the knocks on former RA director of rugby Scott Johnson.

After Liam Gill and Nick Phipps graduated from the program, players of potential were instead rushed into Super Rugby programs.

That did no one any good because the players lost some of the subtleties picked up and refined playing sevens.

In recent years that value has been on display.

Dylan Pietsch graduated from the sevens program and it wasn’t long before he was excelling for the Waratahs.

Over the past two years, Corey Toole has made a seamless transition to Super Rugby and is now on the cusp of a Wallabies call-up.

Brumbies back-rower Charlie Cale got a taste of sevens flavour under his belt and built on the back of last season’s rookie year in Super Rugby.

On Friday, Rebels winger Darby Lancaster was the latest to make an immediate impression.

Lancaster enjoyed a breakout sevens campaign last year and could yet feature in Paris, but the strong-running winger is another to keep a watch on.

Christy Doran’s Australian Super Rugby team of the week

Peni Ravai, Josh Nasser, Taniela Tupou, Seru Uru, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Leota, Fraser McReight, Charlie Cale, Ryan Lonergan, Noah Lolesio, Darby Lancaster, Tamati Tua, Filipo Daugunu, Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright.


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