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The Wallabies coach debate


  • 09 Jul 2013

We asked chief sports writer JON CARDINELLI and junior sports writer GARETH DUNCAN: Who would make a bigger impact as Wallabies coach?

CARDINELLI: EWEN MCKENZIE

The Australian Rugby Union has made the right call to axe Robbie Deans and replace him with Ewen McKenzie.

It was a great idea, in theory, to appoint Deans, given his track record with the Crusaders, but the pragmatic, no-nonsense New Zealander from the South Island battled to adapt to a vastly different Australian culture. There have been five years of incidents and fall-outs, and you have to wonder: would the Wallabies have lost to the British & Irish Lions in 2013 had Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau, among others, been on the park?

I'm not suggesting that McKenzie will stand for prima donnas. What he has shown in recent years is that he has a knack for managing players who don't fit into the box. Like Deans, McKenzie understands why a strong tactical kicking game and defensive system are the cornerstones of a successful game plan under the modern laws. Where McKenzie has shown some flexibility is in his selection of a free spirit like Cooper. The Reds forwards have been among the most physical and accurate in Super Rugby over the past three seasons, and the multi-skilled halfback combination of Will Genia and Cooper have thrived off such a platform. The Reds have employed a balanced approach with great success, and I'm sure McKenzie will be a strong advocate for both attack and defence in the coming months.

Over the past few seasons, the Wallabies have failed to hide the fact that theirs is an unhappy and unsettled camp. The appointment of a new coach represents a chance to build a new culture. McKenzie has done it before at the Reds, and while it took the Queenslanders some time to put the structures into place, they eventually reaped the reward in the form of a Super Rugby title in 2011.

It will take the Wallabies some time to recover from a gutting loss to the Lions, and it will take some time to adjust to McKenzie's management style. They may not be a dominant force in the 2013 Rugby Championship, but with McKenzie pulling the strings, they will rebuild and be right up there come the 2015 World Cup.

DUNCAN: JAKE WHITE

Jake White has made a notable impact at the Brumbies since being appointed as head coach two years ago. The Canberra-based side finished 13th in Super Rugby in 2011, but they were in line to top the Australian Super Rugby conference in just his second season in charge. Imagine what White could achieve with Australia's best players at his disposal.

Former Springbok captain John Smit recently explained to me why White’s on and off-field management made him special, compared to other rugby tacticians.

The Boks were a damaged team after the 2003 World Cup, but his vision turned them into world-beaters within four years. He understood the importance of team chemistry and culture and always stressed these values to his squad. He respected experienced veterans, but also backed young players like Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, who will be remembered as some of the best to have played in their respective positions. White was smart in the way he combined these elements to create a prefect product.

This is the kind of leadership Australian rugby needs. White’s experience would do wonders in fixing the toxic state the Wallabies currently find themselves in.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Ewen McKenzie is a great coach and his record at the Reds is an impressive one. I also think Robbie Deans is an example of why every country should appoint a local coach, but I also believe White is an exception to this rule, especially having been Down Under for the past two years. McKenzie coached the Reds to Super Rugby glory in 2011, but they’ve struggled to reach similar heights since. Their growth has stalled.

The Wallabies need a coach who will rebuild their brand and give them a strong chance of glory at the 2015 World Cup. They need a coach who knows how to beat the All Blacks and the ins and outs of how to expose the Boks.

White's your man.

Photo: Steve Haag/Gavin Barker/Gallo Images/BackpagePix

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