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Stephen Donald: Rugby Australia are missing the bigger picture

By Ned Lester
Rory Scott applauds Brumbies coach Dan McKellar as the home crowd farewell the Brumbies coach. Photo by TRACEY NEARMY/AFP via Getty Images

Following his scrutiny of Rugby Australia’s decision to fire Dave Rennie, former All Black first-five Stephen Donald has doubled down on his criticism of the governing body.

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Earlier this week, Donald called Rennie the best coach he’s played for, going on to call out Rugby Australia for turning on Rennie as they have done with Kiwi coaches in the past.

Donald also criticised RA for avoiding confronting their real issues, such as player development. While the criticism initially compared Australia’s and New Zealand’s player development in more of a physical skillset context, this time Donald elaborated on the mental side of the rivalry as an example of Australia’s shortcomings.

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He began by expressing disillusionment over the timing of the decision, as well as the reasoning behind it.

“I think that’s been a little bit lost in all of the hype, the hoopla, that we’ve obviously said, ‘Well look, what’s he working with?’ Donald told SENZ Breakfast.

“What we’re saying is that I can’t imagine Dave Rennie and the echelon coach that he is, where he sits, that he’s the reason.

“Therefore, you take another step back. What has Australia done this for? Because surely they don’t believe – (Andy) Marinos and (Hamish) McLennan – surely they don’t believe, ‘Oh, it’s clearly the coaching’.

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“The boys haven’t gone to him and said, ‘Hey, we need to get rid of this guy from across the ditch, he’s a terrible coach,’ that surely has not happened. It can’t have happened.

“So therefore what have they done this for? Obviously Eddie’s Australian, he became on the market, sure, sign him up for after the next World Cup, but it’s just the most bizarre thing unless you are literally just wanting your game to be on the front page or back page of the Herald in Sydney in January, which it now is.”

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As a former Super Rugby player, Donald’s understanding of how international winning momentum and confidence is influenced by players’ success at club level is to be noted, and he drew on that experience to inform his criticism of Rugby Australia.

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“A couple of years ago, what was the stat? They won two from 25 as far as against Kiwi Super teams and then this year they won seven or eight or you know something like that and it was a slight improvement,” he added.

“I think there’s a massive belief issue to get over because when games go down to the last 10 minutes and five minutes, if you didn’t go into this game genuinely thinking you believe or it hasn’t washed over you in the previous seven minutes that, ‘Hang on, we will beat these guys today,’ then you can almost see it in their eyes that it’s been a gallant performance but (they’re not) going to quite make it.

“There’s a whole generation of Aussie footballers that, and we’re just talking about the All Blacks here, playing the All Blacks, that at times (fail) to actually believe that they’re going to get the job done.

“That’s something you’ve got to get over.”

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