Back to the future, again. When I read the reports that Eddie Jones and Warren Gatland were at the top of Rugby Australia’s wishlist to replace Michael Cheika, I immediately felt exactly how Marty McFly would have felt when told he had to go back to the future.
“Oh get… Weren’t we just there?”
Jones having another crack at the Wallabies would have a lot of fans worried, and there are plenty of punters who think the rot with the Wallabies all started when Robbie Deans came onboard in 2008. I disagree when it comes to Deans, things were looking pear-shaped well before then. But all that aside, there was another name mentioned in those reports that really sparked my interest: Dave Rennie.
I should explain first why Jones and Gatland don’t interest me in the same way Rennie does. Jones is familiar to all, and while his successes with Japan and England are to be admired, I just don’t want any of the b/s he seems to bring with him. The mind games in the media are getting old, and his efforts at diplomacy have not improved based on his current standing with the English clubs. The move towards greater synergy between the Wallabies and the Super Rugby teams does not suit him, nor would taking direction from Scott Johnson.
We were lucky enough to have former Wallaby Lachie Turner on our Pillar to Post podcast this week, and naturally, we discussed these coaches. He made the observation that while 2004 Eddie used to have playbooks the size of an atlas, the 2019 model is much less rigid in his philosophy. I suspect Scott Wisemantel is a positive influence in that regard.
Lachie made another interesting observation regarding Gatland in that he is the type of coach who could have an immediate, positive impact on the team. The scenario he proposed involves signing Gatland on a 2-year contract with an option to extend that allows Rugby Australia to reassess at the midway point in the World Cup cycle, which would allow someone like Dave Wessells to get a look in provided he has enough runs on the board.
Gatland is a better choice than Jones, but still doesn’t really excite me, and I think that’s because none of his Welsh teams have ever excited me. I know I’m in the wrong on this one, as he ticks all the boxes for better rugby minds than mine, but another part of my reasoning is his poor record against the Wallabies. It just strikes me as odd to appoint someone that has had so much trouble against us.
After Robbie Deans, there was a very vocal part of the Australian rugby community that preached we should never again recruit a foreign coach because Australian coaches get better results. Well, time has proved a mockery of that, as Ewen McKenzie and Cheika did not and have not delivered results, and we have no local coaches with the experience or form to call upon to take over when Cheika departs.
Which brings me to Rennie. As an Australian rugby fan, I remember the Chiefs with some fondness before he took over. They were one of those almost mythical beasts in rugby, a New Zealand team we had a good chance against. The way he and Wayne Smith were able to take that side from near cellar dwellers to consecutive Super Rugby champions was nothing short of masterful, and they did it without sweeping changes to the squad. More than anything, what I admired about that team was their support play once they made a break and the way that the overall game plan provided the space and freedom for the extraordinary individual talent in the team to come to the fore.
That Chiefs team was electrifying, and it’s just the sort of rugby we need to get fans back on the Wallaby bandwagon. We have plenty of excitement machines for Rennie to work with in Isreal Folau, Samu Kerevi and Quade Cooper, as well as young talent in Jordan Petaia, Liam Wright and Rob Valentini that would benefit immensely from his influence. He is noted as building great culture in his teams, the absence of which has been a recurring theme in media reports about the Wallabies over the past decade or so.
I appreciate that for Rennie to be involved we would need a caretaker of sorts until he becomes available in mid-2020. This wouldn’t be a hard task at all with the number of coaches Rugby Australia has on the books at the moment, so between Scott Johnson and Stephen Larkham, I am sure they’ll manage.
“Rennie’s teams are all advocates of unstructured play, which is something Australian teams moved away from with Rod Macqueen. There would be a decent teething period with Rennie as a Wallaby coach but you would eventually see the benefits. I am just not sure the Australian rugby public would be patient enough”.
I can understand where he is coming from. The Wallabies haven’t been considered a successful side since the 2015 World Cup and yes, fans are desperate for wins and consistency. I think we need to give our fans more credit though. Rather than an overnight success, what we really want is a Wallaby team that embodies everything we used to love about them. Creativity, toughness and a never-say-die attitude. Dave Rennie’s teams have all had those qualities in spades, and that makes him the man to instill them in the current Wallabies. If he is up for it, then I say bring on Dingo Dave, this fan is in for the long haul.
Reds flyhalf Isaac Lucas ahead of Sunwolves:
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