Cheika’s new boss makes bold call
SCOTT Johnson strolled into Rugby Australia's headquarters on Friday morning, and was told by a journalist that his employee, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, has a strong personality.
RA's new director of rugby shot back: "I've got a strong personality too".
With that, the tone is set for one of the most intriguing relationships in the tumultuous history of rugby in this country.
With just five months to plan for the Wallabies' World Cup campaign in Japan, Johnson said he welcomed disagreements with Cheika on team selection, revealed he had no involvement in the sacking of Stephen Larkham as attack coach, and believes Australia can lift the William Webb Ellis trophy despite being ranked sixth in the world.
After finishing his duties with Scotland, Johnson takes on the newly-created director of rugby role and discussed the burning issues upon his arrival in Sydney.
RELATIONSHIP WITH CHEIKA
"I think I've got a strong personality too, we're in a people business, you've got to know people, I've got a lot of good people here," Johnson said.
"I keep saying this, I've travelled all over the world and Australia is considered over-achievers when you consider the natural predators we've got and the sports available for athletes.
"Cheik's got great drive, great passion to get a team going good, and I understand that.
"There are going to be times we all disagree, that's fine. If you get two people who always agree, you've got one too many haven't you.
"It's got to be dynamic because we both want what's best for the game and the best for the team. He'll want the best for the Wallabies and we have a longer term view of it too, so it'll be good.
"Hands on will be left to the coaching team, and I will work in with Cheik re that. But the World Cup is there so it will be a short-term focus with a long-term view as well. So my job is the long term as well as the short term.
"Cheika is looking after the team. I would like to think I can bring something. I have been around the sport a bit and coached a lot of internationals, so I think our work together can only benefit the team."
THREE-MAN SELECTION PANEL OF JOHNSON, CHEIKA AND MICHAEL O'CONNOR
"It will be dynamic I am sure, we all have an opinion, but like I said if you have two people who always agree you have one too many," Johnson said.
"At the end of the day you want it vibrant and when the team gets picked you know you have done your due diligence and you know you have cross-examined each other. That's not a bad thing.
"You'd like to think casting votes don't come, that logic wins [with] guys that are coaching the team, so you want him to win his arguments because there is logic to it. It will be pretty dynamic and keep everyone honest."
AXING LARKHAM, AND FINDING A REPLACEMENT
"It wasn't my place to say [whether Larkham should have been sacked], that was a decision that was made internally here before [I arrived]," Johnson said.
"I was sitting in an ivory tower somewhere else, I'm not going [to] sit there and pass judgment on that because that's the height of arrogance to do so.
"We're not ruling out anything [in terms of Larkham's replacement being a short-term appointment for the World Cup].
"We'll just have a look at what the options are, what we think the best fit is and we'll go from there.
"I will get my feet under the desk and talk with Cheik and go through our options. There are plenty of options out there."
WALLABIES WORLD CUP CHANCES
"We have as much chance as anyone else," Johnson said.
"We have a pretty formidable record but we can't rely on that, and don't expect to. We are trying to get prominence in a very dynamic sporting landscape and we want to stand for something. Our rugby DNA is acumen and skill and that's what I want to be.
"The rugby fraternity and rugby public, and sporting public, will understand that.
"We are pretty proud of what is on our coat of arms - we have two animals that don't walk backwards. I quite like that so with anything in a competitive sense, we won't be walking backwards."