Rugby Australia has removed Stephen Larkham from assistant coach job. He had strong differences with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. He is appointed as national performance national high-performance coach adviser. The decision to axe Stephen Larkham from attack coach post was made by head coach Michael Cheika. His removal is surprising because there are just little over seven months are left in the Rugby World Cup 2019.
Rugby Australia (RA) issued a statement: “Larkham will move into the new role with immediate effect after a decision was made by head coach Michael Cheika that Larkham should no longer continue in the role of assistant coach of the Wallabies”.
Stephen Larkham had been attack coach since 27th October 2015. Michael Cheika had chosen him for assistant coach role after joining wallabies as head coach in 22nd October 2014. Michael Cheika and Stephen Larkham guided Australia to final of 2015 Rugby World Cup, where they eventually lost to New Zealand. Relationship between the two coaches deteriorated. They were not on same page regarding strategy and game philosophy. Stephen Larkham will focus on coach mentoring, coaching and skills development across Rugby Australia’s national programmes, including Australian sevens program, Junior Wallabies, state under-20s academies and Wallaroos.
Stephen Larkham said: “Ultimately Michael is responsible for the performance of the team. 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 in this new role.”
Australia gone through worst season in 2018, winning just 4 out of 13 matches. This was worst win-loss record for Wallabies in 60 years. Rugby Australia reviewed dismal performance, but shown faith in coaching of Michael Cheika. RA though have roped in Scot Johnson for newly created post of Director of Rugby. Shuffling in team management has also resulted in resignation of Haydn Masters from head of athletic preparation job.
Three times world champions New Zealand are favorites for 2019 Rugby World Cup. But they will have to keep close eye on Ireland. World number one ranked All Blacks had a seesaw year in 2018 with highs and lows. World No. ranked Irish side had defeated New Zealand 16-9 in Autumn Internationals 2018 at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Steve Hansen’s All Blacks have now lost two out of three last games played against Joe Schmidt’s Irish team. Johnny Sexton, Ireland vice-captain played important role in the wins. Ireland have revealed that there are some weakness in New Zealand’s arsenal in a long while. This opens up the stacks for the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said: “As of now they are the number-one team in the world. So if you want to make them World Cup favourites, go ahead. I guess they are favourites.”
New Zealand top the World Rugby Rankings, closely followed by Ireland. While other top Rugby Union teams like Wales, England, South Africa, Australia and Scotland are trailing closely behind. It is hard to think of a World Cup like the 2015 edition, when all four semi-finalists came from the southern hemisphere.
This comes after All Blacks lost 34-36 against South Africa in September 2018 at Wellington, thus ending 15-match winning streak by New Zealand. It was first loss at home by All Blacks versus an international Rugby Union side since 2009, apart from defeat against British and Irish Lions in 2017. New Zealand are ruling the World Rugby scene since their third Rugby World Cup title win in 2015. All Blacks are double defending champions as they had won RWC edition at their home turf in 2011. New Zealand were also world champions of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.
South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said: “We’ve shown on the day when everything’s aligned and the guys are all in the same frame of mind, we can beat the All Blacks away and win a series against England”.
“It’s wide open,” he said of the World Cup. “I’ve been involved in World Cups since 1995, but really this one I couldn’t put money on who’s going to be in the semi-finals.”
Wales beat Australia 9-6 in the 2018 Autumn Internationals match at Millennium Stadium (Principality Stadium) in Cardiff. Welsh team finally ended 13 match losing streak against Wallabies. It is first win for Wales in a decade versus Australia. Stephen Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar scored for Welsh side. Australian team scored with Bernard Foley and Matthew Toomua. This game was important for national rugby teams of both Wales and Australia in their preparations of Rugby World Cup 2019.
Wales scored first in the match with Leigh Halfpenny hitting a penalty in 21’. Australia responded with Bernard Foley smashing a penalty on 33′. Halfpenny missed two penalties in the first half. Scoreline on break time was 3-3 with honours equal. Halfpenny put Wales in front with 67’ penalty in second round. But then Halfpenny had to leave pitch following a high tackle by Samu Kerevi which hit his head. Wallabies player Matthew Toomua equalized the score with 74′ penalty. Dan Biggar sealed the game for Welsh team with 76′ penalty. Wales have been victorious in two matches played in Autumn Internationals 2018 so far. This will serve good in Welsh preparation for RWC 2019. Both teams are scheduled to play in Japan 2019. Australia have lost eight matches of the last ten played recently. Wallabies coach and team will have to bring their End of Year Rugby Union Tests 2018 campaign on track. Australian preparation for RWC 2019 in Japan also needs a fresh start.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said: “It has been a long time coming. Someone reminded me I was the sole survivor from the win in 2008 and that shows how old I am. This is sweeter. Dan is a competitive animal and he probably wouldn’t have wanted it any other way that for it to come down to the wire and then come on and do his job.”
Australia captain Michael Hooper said: “It has been a long-time jinx playing us and you could see how happy they were to get on top. It was a real grudge match. Congratulations to Wales, but it really hurts. We will re-group. We have got two more games to play on this trip and a hell of a lot to play for each week.”
Wales Vs Australia 9-6
10 November 2018 – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Wales: 9 Pen: Halfpenny (21′, 67’), Biggar (76′) Australia: 6 Pen: Foley (33′), Toomua (74′)