Wallabies legend George Gregan, who was a member of the Australian team that last held the Bledisloe Cup in 2003, says he’s been impressed with the direction his former side is going under coach Dave Rennie.
Speaking to his old rival Justin Marshall on Sky Sport’s The Breakdown, Gregan gave his assessment on the current state of Australian rugby and in particular the Wallabies, saying Rennie and his coaching team have already had a big impact on the national team.
“I think it’s trending and tracking in the right direction,” Gregan said. “You saw that with the first test match result against the All Blacks in Wellington. It was a really spirited performance. And you can see that Dave Rennie and the coaching group he’s assembled have really had a big impact on a really good young talented group with some talented players who have experience.
“There’s always been talented players within Australian rugby, it’s just a matter of making sure they’re all on the same page and pulled in the right direction.
“There’s good support for the national coach at all levels. I thought the way the Reds and the Brumbies played at Super Rugby AU was really impressive. You’ve seen players picked on form with a winning habit going into the national setup.
“And Dave Rennie as we know, history shows it doesn’t matter if it’s with the Waikato Chiefs, New Zealand under-20s when he won many championships and also when he when across and did a great job in Edinburgh, the guy knows how to transform teams and create a really good, I guess, attitude, belief, the buzzword is culture, within the teams that he coaches. I think we’ve seen that early doors.”
The 47-year-old former halfback says he appreciated Rennie’s honesty and how he’s been going about fixing the areas that have let the Wallabies down in the first two Bledisloe Cup clashes.
“What I’ve liked about Dave Rennie, he points out some of the key areas which let them down. He did in Wellington and he certainly did in Auckland. So they’ll be really working on those things – the connection in defence, making sure you do all those really small things really well, good communication and not dropping off.
“You need to do that 80 plus minutes as we saw in Wellington against the All Blacks. They have enough potency, they have points in them, they have the ability to score points, which I really like about this Wallabies squad. So it’s just about getting the other side of the ball right and make sure you’re not missing 20 or 40 tackles in total.”
Gregan also liked what he was seeing at the administration level, another volatile area for Australia over the years since he was a menace in the Wallabies backline.
“At administration level I think we’ve been really impressed by what Hamish McLennan has done, trying to get everyone – it’s not just from top down, but from the ground up as well – getting involved with the game and feeling passionate about what rugby means to this country and what it means to the people. So I think they’re all simple things which they’re the foundations of all good sports particularly rugby.”
When it comes to players, Gregan was impressed with the performances of halfback Nic White, who has featured heavily for the Wallabies despite not being a regular starter during the Super Rugby season.
“I think he’s a really good selection. He’s a super competitor. Most guys with No 9 on their back are really competitive. He’s really evolved his game over the years.
“He asks questions and if you knock off on either side of the ruck around that second or third defender, he’s going to back himself. And that’s probably been the biggest evolution in his game since he’s returned to Australia.”
Gregan also spoke about the improvements within the Australian forwards, and gave a special shoutout to front rowers James Slipper and Taniela Tupou as well as lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.
“They certainly have fronted up. It’s not a cliché, it’s a reality of our game – your tight-five, you live by the sword and die by the sword as a team by the efforts they put in. They’re often the unsung heroes.
“Set-piece, lineout, delivering good quality ball, their work around the field at the contact areas, those sorts of things make a huge difference in how a team can find its cohesion and find its energy and find its rhythm. And that’s what this Wallaby team has shown so far and they need to continue to do it. Also the set piece, like the scrum I know that’s always been a bit of a soft side of any Wallaby team – you just hear that all the time – but this is a strong squad.”
Gregan’s quiet confidence even caused Marshall to suggest that he was “worried” for the All Blacks.
“He’s confident but not overly confident. He’s got me slightly worried actually.”
The Wallabies host the All Blacks at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium in the third Bledisloe Cup test on Saturday at 9.45pm.
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