Fresh twist in ugly Wallabies saga
RUGBY Australia chief Raelene Castle felt compelled to write a letter of apology over the behaviour of the Wallabies squad at the World Cup, according to media reports.
Tournament organisers were said to have been unhappy with a number of the Australian contingent in Japan, including former coach Michael Cheika, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The paper quotes an unnamed source who reportedly saw Castle's letter, in which she reportedly bidded to made amends for Cheika's criticising World Rugby and referees, and presenting a general "us against them" attitude during the tournament.
In particular, Cheika criticised the decision to slap Wallabies winger Reece Hodge with a three-week suspension for a dangerous tackle on Fiji's Peceli Yato, which left World Rugby bosses unimpressed.
"If there is one bloke World Rugby is not listening to it's me," Cheika said at the time of Hodge's suspension. "No matter what language I spoke to them in.
"There is a bit of us versus everyone else. You know and we know that. So we are not going to let it derail us."
Cheika also criticised the decision to penalise Samu Kerevi for a carry against Wales, saying: "As a rugby player, a former player, I am embarrassed."
After the Wallabies were beaten 40-16 by England in the World Cup quarter-finals, Cheika revealed he would not seek an extension to the five-year spell he had served.
He then dropped a bombshell by saying he had "pretty much no relationship" with RA chairman Cameron Clyne and "not much" of a relationship with Castle.
After the World Cup, reports emerged Cheika and Castle had been involved in an argument at a function at the Australian embassy in Tokyo and needed to be separated.
The Herald report also said World Rugby had opted not to comment when contacted for a reaction.
News of Castle's apology comes a week after RA's appointment of Kiwi Dave Rennie to replace Cheika as Wallabies coach.
All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens expects Rennie to leave no stone unturned in his quest to revive the Wallabies, even tipping the meticulous mentor to reach out to Cheika for possible pointers.
Rennie, who guided the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012-13, rejected overtures from New Zealand powerbrokers in favour of taking over from Cheika after completing his commitments with Glasgow Warriors in June.
"That shows the integrity of the guy. He's a Kiwi and it must be flattering to be asked to put your name in the ring for that All Blacks job," Mehrtens told AAP.
"But he's made his decision and already it seems like he's pouring everything into it, to have that attitude when New Zealand came knocking.
"I'm sure they're not delighted at the fact that A - they're not getting to use his IP now, and B, a close rival is."
Hailing Rennie as understated - "like we like it in New Zealand" - with street smarts, Mehrtens believes the new coach's pragmatic approach will be the perfect fit for the Wallabies.
"Coaching is so much about man management and helping the players develop and far less these days than the actual technical coaching side," he said. "For the last 15 years or so the focus of Australia's last few coaches has been very much off the mark.
"A lot of the focus, whether it be skills coaching or club coaching, has been around whiteboards - dividing the field up, a very methodical approach and a very strict approach.
"That takes away from the players' ability to make decisions on the field and to behold the game themselves, which they need to be able to do.
"And that will take some time to turn that around and change that."
Rennie, though, is keen to hit the ground running. Hence why Mehrtens suspects Rennie won't be afraid to listen to Cheika.
"I have very little doubt they will be trying to catch up at some point. I'm sure 'Cheik' will want the best for Australian rugby and the Wallabies enough to give 'Renns' the benefit of his experience of the last four years," Mehrtens said.
"And I'm sure Renns is a big enough guy to say, 'Look, I'm new coming in to this environment, I might know a lot of the players; I've watched them over time with Super Rugby or whatever but I want to learn as much as I can about the internal workings as well'.
"It will probably be in a dark room somewhere over a beer but it wouldn't surprise me at all if we saw that sooner rather than later.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Cheik went over to Scotland and caught up with him."