The Wallabies World Cup Quarter Final defeat to England at Oita Stadium brought the curtain down on the Michael Cheika era as coach of the Australian National Rugby Team. Appointed ahead of the 2014 European Tour, his 68 game reign was plagued with inconsistency but had its fair share of high points along the way too. For his efforts, he tasted victory 34 times as Wallabies coach and we give to you our Top Five in chronological order.
2014 – Wallabies 33 def Wales 28, Millennium Stadium.
Ewen McKenzie’s sudden resignation as Wallabies Coach, meant the timing of Cheika’s ascension to the top job was far from ideal given it was two days before the team departed for the 2014 Spring Tour. A week and a half later and he was coaching in a Test Match at Millennium Stadium.
Israel Folau was the star early for the Wallabies, his first-half double the highlight as an enterprising and see-sawing first forty saw both teams locked at 21-all at half time. The nature of the contest changed after the break though, with the second half developing into a gripping arm-wrestle as both teams attempted to outlast the other to record victory.
Fresh from kicking Cheika’s Waratahs to victory in the Super Rugby Final a few months earlier, the boot of Bernard Foley would prove influential for the Wallabies in this match. Two penalties gave the Wallabies the edge before a penalty try and conversion handed the home team the lead as the match headed into its final ten minutes.
Despite the state of the match, the Wallabies remained patient and for twenty phases they attacked the Welsh line. The relentless attack was rewarded when Foley calmly retook the lead with a field goal before a 79th-minute penalty iced the match and handed Chieka’s Wallabies a famous first Test victory after weeks of turmoil. Unfortunately, there would be little to celebrate for the remainder of the tour but this night at Millennium Stadium was a night to remember for Aussie Rugby fans.
2015 – Wallabies 27 def New Zealand 19, ANZ Stadium.
In front of 73,824 exuberant fans at ANZ Stadium, the Wallabies ended a four year long run of outs against the All Blacks and claimed the Rugby Championship with a hard fought 27-19 victory. In an exhilarating exhibition of Rugby the Australians withstood everything their trans-Tasman foes had to throw at them to record a well earned victory.
The men in gold trailed 6-3 after a testing first half in which defence was king as both sides struggled to maintain possession in an error ridden display. The match sprung into life in the second half though when both sides capitalised on yellow cards shown to their opponents. First Sekope Kepu, for the Wallabies, then Nehe Milner-Skudder, for New Zealand, crossed the white stripe to break the defensive stalemate.
With Nick Phipps still in the sin-bin, Cheika’s move to replace Bernard Foley paid almost immediate dividends when substitute Matt Toomua, with a deft kick, set up Adam Ashley-Cooper for a try. Matt Giteau’s sideline conversion gave the Wallabies a 17-14 lead before a familiar tale seemed to be playing itself out when Milner-Skudder grabbed the lead late for New Zealand.
It was another substitute who would come up trumps for Cheika, with Nic White replacing Phipps with devastating results for the All Blacks. With a long 48-metre penalty he regained the lead for his team before a slight of hands saw him burst through the New Zealand line to run in the winning try.
With the victory the Wallabies claimed their most important piece of silverware in four years. Unfortunately, on two further occasions in 2015 with the Bledisloe and World Cups on the line, they were unable to repeat the dose. As a result it would mean this night at Homebush would remain the most significant victory of the Cheika era when it came to an end four years later.
2016 – Wallabies 23 def South Africa 16, Suncorp Stadium.
It wasn’t pretty but Australia’s gritty 23-16 win over South Africa at Suncorp in 2016 was exactly what the doctor ordered after six consecutive Test Match defeats. Challenged after falling behind by 11-points early, every ounce of their fighting spirit was called upon to come out on top at the final whistle.
Playmakers Quade Cooper, Will Genia and Bernard Foley were the stars for the Wallabies as they lifted themselves off the canvas after falling behind on the scoreboard 14-3 after 17-minutes. Skipper Stephen Moore was a steadying force too as he refused opportunities for penalty goals and implored his team to attack the try line.
Genia sent Adam Coleman over to narrow the deficit while Cooper’s kicking game continued to provide a territorial advantage to the Wallabies. Penalty goals to Foley then handed them the lead. In the 63rd minute he would provide the match sealing play when, after 18 phases of pressure, he stepped through the Springboks defensive line for a critical five pointer.
A late Springbok penalty would narrow the margin but they would not be in a position to truly challenge as the Wallabies held on for pressure relieving victory.
2018 – Wallabies 45 def Argentina 34, Mendoza.
Countless blushes were spared when the Wallabies produced the second biggest comeback in Test history to avoid defeat against Argentina and a last placed finish in the 2018 Rugby Championship. After 40-minutes with the team trailing 31-7, the only memorable moment was the mother of all dressing downs delivered by Michael Cheika that was captured by change room cameras.
While the audio of the spray was not captured, the spirit of the message seemed to have the desired effect with the Wallabies a different team altogether in the second forty. A withering 25 minute burst erased the sins of the first half with converted tries to Izack Rodda, Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty and David Pocock giving the Wallabies an unlikely lead.
A second try for Haylett-Petty and a Bernard Foley penalty would round out the scoring in one of the most remarkable matches in Test history. Spurred into action by the possibility of an inglorious end to their Rugby Championship campaign the Wallabies produced one of the most spirited halves of Rugby of the Cheika era.
2019 – Wallabies 47 def New Zealand 26, Optus Stadium.
The Wallabies shocked the All Blacks and the Rugby world with an emphatic 47-26 win in the opening Bledisloe Cup Test in 2019. In an almost impeccable performance they starved the visitors of the ball and racked up a record score to the great delight of a full house in the west.
James O’Connor and Reece Hodge combined brilliantly for the Wallabies with the former setting up the latter for two of the six tries scored by the men in gold. Their first effort was the backbone of Australia’s 16-12 halftime lead but it was in the 10 minutes after the break that the game was blown wide open.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto an Nic White struck in the early stages of the second half to take the Wallabies lead out to 26-12. Christian Lealiifano’s missed conversions appeared extremely costly when the 14-man All Blacks answered in the 56th minute to draw within a converted try. Mariko Koroibete and Hodge, with his second, extended the lead to 40-19 and eased Lealifano any extended heartache. When Kurtley Beale crossed in the 79th minute, Australia’s 47 points was the highest score ever conceded by the All Blacks and put the finishing touch on one of the best nights of Michael Cheika’s reign as Wallabies coach.