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Once again Rugby Australia have run rings around New Zealand Rugby

By Hamish Bidwell
dave-rennie-ian-foster

A sign of weakness or a sign of strength?

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Ultimately, it will be history that decides whether Rugby Australia’s (RA) decision to install Eddie Jones as Wallabies coach for a second time was the right decision.

If Dave Rennie couldn’t coax consistently-good performances out of that side, it’s no certainty that Jones will be able to either. The depth of talent just isn’t there.

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But there’s no doubt RA have been proactive. No hint that they believe contracts have to be honoured or that coaches can only go at the time of their choosing.

I’d wager Australia will be better under Jones – at least in the short term.

That they will be competitive at this year’s Rugby World Cup and that RA and the players will then tire of Jones before his five-year contract is up.

I also think the sacking of Rennie shows New Zealand Rugby (NZR) up in so many ways. It suggests, if nothing else, that RA possesses the stomach for hard decisions that NZR do not.

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Rennie is an accomplished and popular coach. Players have historically loved him and there’s little suggestion the Wallabies were any different.

And yet he’s gone.

Rightly or wrongly, RA felt they couldn’t endure another year of up-and-down form. They had to act – no matter the regard Rennie was held in.

We haven’t been that brave in New Zealand. Not by a long chalk.

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No. We’ve dithered and tinkered and held absurd and unenlightening press conferences where everyone lapsed into nicknames and told us how much faith they had in one another.

No matter how unconvincing the team, no matter how historic the losses – “Fozzie” had to be both retained as coach and protected from scrutiny.

I reckon RA have run rings around NZR for a while now. That RA chairman Hamish McLennan is so superior to the folk we’ve got in charge of our game that it’s not funny.

In fact it’s embarrassing.

McLennan’s called our bluff more than once in the competition and broadcast space and now he’s showing us how real professional sports bodies react to an ineffective team.

Here in New Zealand we’ve become wed to the idea of heroes deciding when they time’s up. Be they player or coach, once they’ve attained a certain status they appear to be untouchable.

It would be unconscionable to sack Ian Foster because he’s been such a good company man. Never mind that he’s not up to the job of being All Blacks head coach, Foster’s reward for years of dutiful service as an assistant is to stay in the top job for as long as he wants.

Only this isn’t Rotary or the Lions. We’re not talking about a Masonic lodge here.

We’re talking about a supposed high-performance sports team – a genuine global brand worth billions we’re told – and yet we’re still so amateurish that we can’t relieve a struggling coach of his duties.

Well, the Rugby Football Union have and now RA too.

Among the antiquated ideas we appear to cling to, is the notion that an All Blacks coach needs years – maybe even a decade or so, given Foster’s association with the team – to build a World Cup contender. That it would be lunacy to give a coach just months to whip a world champion into shape.

And yet Wayne Smith did it with the Black Ferns in only a matter of weeks.

England will be better without Eddie Jones as their coach, just as Australia are likely to be with him.

Environments get stale, methods stop working, messages fall on deaf ears.

Good administrators see that and they do the necessary thing. They don’t muddle along for years insisting there isn’t an issue, as NZR have been wont to do with Foster.

Remember Allister Coetzee, anyone? I know I barely do. But I won’t forget South Africa’s bold appointment of Rassie Erasmus as head coach and the 2019 World Cup win that followed a few months after.

It’s a shame we continue to shy away from putting our national team first.

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