‘Cheika and I went at each other, it was pretty heated’

Retired Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell had recalled the heated row he had with coach Michael Cheika the night before the squad flew out of Australia ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The now 38-year-old hadn’t been capped at Test level since December 2012 and had exited Cheika’s Waratah’s at the end of the following year’s great rugby campaign to join top 14 powerhouse Toulon.

Mitchell, though, was recalled to the set-up ahead of the finals in England, playing two matches in the truncated Rugby Championship, but the preparations in Australia ahead of a pre-tournament camp in the United States left him fuming. He had already been told he wouldn’t be considered for selection for the game away to the Americans and instead had to attend fat club along with Will Skelton.

The daily rugby 24/7 focus eventually wore him down and he went on to have a public bust-up with Cheika in front of the whole squad at an eve-of-departure function in Sydney that resulted in Mitchell getting told by assistant coach Mario Ledesma to enjoy his last night in camp with Australia before getting sent home.

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As it was, Cheika did no such thing, keeping Mitchell in the Australia squad and the winger went on to start five matches at the World Cup – including the Twickenham final against the All Blacks. He played just once more for Australia, however, the curtain falling on his 71-cap career in September 2016.

Having since retired from playing – and with Cheika now coaching Argentina – Mitchell used the final episode of the 2021/22 Rugby Pass Offload series to recount what had happened on that fateful night where his issues with the then Australia head coach left him fearing he wouldn’t be traveling to World Cup 2015.

“Our last night we had a team function on the harbor and it set up the situation where if anyone had any gripes or any issues with the squad or anyone in the squad or what we are doing going into the World Cup, tonight was your night to say it. Myself and Gits [Giteau] were rooming together and a number of players came to us saying ‘this is s***’ or ‘this is that’ and ‘I’m tired with the checking in part’, ‘how did you sleep’ and blah, blah, blah. All that sort of s*** that you do.

“We get over there and Cheika does this great intro, a highlights reel and we were all having a bit of a beer, and he said, ‘Now is time to talk up if you have anything on your mind, anything you are not enjoying , let’s get it out in the air now and we will discuss it. Let’s put everything out now on the table before we get on a plane for the World Cup’.

“Gits gets up and says something around the footy and the content around the footy, something like you would expect from your fly-half. And I sort of said, ‘Look Cheik, I’ve got an issue’. I am struggling – and maybe it was because I am coming from the south of France where things are done very differently.

“I am struggling with from the moment I wake up I am doing those log-ins, I am getting on an app, I am doing this, I go to physio, I check in, go to breakfast and then you go to training and you have to do your gold star review of your training session and you have physio and massage and go back from training.

“Then you have got your recovery at nighttime. Just before I got to bed I am writing in a diary about how I exemplified being a Wallaby that day. I said, ‘From the moment I wake up until the moment I put my head on the pillow, it’s just rugby and it’s draining. It’s just a lot.

“He goes, ‘Well mate, go on the p***. If you want, just go on the p***. I’m not stopping you’. I was, ‘Well, I didn’t say it had anything to do with alcohol’. Maybe it was my reputation speaking but I had just come back, I didn’t know some of the guys in the group because I hadn’t had any shared experiences being over in France, little things like that outside of the group, outside of footy.

“He goes, ‘Well f***ing organize it mate’. I said, ‘Funnily enough, I tried with the manager on three occasions to set aside a night to do some social stuff with the boys but we didn’t have the time’. hey [Cheika] said, ‘If you want to go on the p***, do it but I will have you running up a hill at 6am tomorrow morning. I’m going to make you pay for it because every time you go out on the drink you are going to have to do some training. There is a cost there’.

“I was like, ‘Well hang on. Does it mean every training session I have I then get to go on the p*** because it has got to equal out?’ So Cheik and I went at each other a little bit in that situation and he was, ‘Mate, I’m the f***ing boss so I get final say’. I said, ‘I have been going to the team manager who says we haven’t any time’ and he was, ‘Well, come to me, I’m the f***ing boss’.

“Anyway, it got a bit heated and he said, ‘Alright boys, let’s all settle down a bit and take five, we’ll go to the bathroom and we’ll come back’. It was pretty heated to be fair and as I was walking out the door, Mario Ledesma went, ‘Enjoy your last night in camp, bro’.

“We get back from our five-minute intermission and sit down and he [Cheika] goes, ‘Anyone else got anything?’ and everyone just went, ‘No’. I was like, ‘Where are all these blokes who came to our room earlier that day and said they have got this issue, that issue?’”

The public bust-up between Cheika and Mitchell in front of the Australia squad worked out well in the long run, though. “Because of that interaction that day between Cheik and I where no-one else wanted to speak up, he said after that World Cup part of the reason why he brought Gits and I back was we were the two people who would speak the truth.

“He said that night he expected the two of us to say something and wasn’t expecting too many others. He actually kind of respected and appreciated me saying that and was probably a little disappointed he didn’t hear from others because he knew there were others who had something they wanted to get off their chest.”

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