Ewan McKenzie took over as Wallabies Coach from Robbie Deans following the Lions victorious visit to their land this summer. He promised a more attractive and expansive style of rugby and pulled together a young team with an emphasis on long term development. Fresh from transforming the fortunes of Super Rugby Queensland Reds he was warmly welcomed by Aussie fans who had never really taken the Kiwi Deans into their hearts.
Developing a side from new beginnings in international rugby is pretty tough. His first test was to lead his team into the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championships. The considerable threat of established All Blacks and South African’s teams awaited along with an improving and often underestimated Argentina.
Vision Character and success seem to have gone missing
Vision Character and success seem to have gone missing
A formidable first challenge. To be successful a coach needs a long term vision and the character to stand by his decisions and players. As he guides them through the early stages developing a winning team some wins along the way are essential because no one has the patience for a long term plan if you are losing.
Unfortunately vision, character and success seem to have gone missing from Australia’s campaign. They’ve had a poor Championship with four losses and one win in their five games. A desperate win against Argentina was secured by one point but more tellingly in a route one style of rugby that McKenzie had criticised Deans for employing. So much for vision and success.
His young team are being criticised from all angles, ex players, media, the public and most annoyingly crowing All Black players and coaches. The pressure on the coach cannot be underestimated which is why real character is needed in this key role. If he is to lead his players through this storm McKenzie has to be clear on the vision / outcome he is striving for, (Step 1 impress); be able to manage his state, (Step 2 impress) and maintain rapport with players so they can exert the influence they need to coach and inspire them, (Step 3 impress).
McKenzie resorted to excuses
And he started off well. Their first game was the Bledisloe Cup encounter with the All Blacks and resulted in a thumping 29 – 47 loss. After the game McKenzie did well to sound a positive note, (All quotes from ESPN),
We didn’t control the ball and they were able to play and do some of the things they’re good at, and you pay a price for that. But in amongst it there are some bits and pieces that we liked; there’s some stuff there that we can certainly improve, there’s no question about that
A week later and the return fixture was in New Zealand and a marginally more respectable score but still a 27 – 16 loss. McKenzie’s positivity seemed to desert him as he resorted to excuses and criticising the new scrum directives;
To be honest, I don’t understand what’s going on, I used to be able to work out it out but now I don’t know what’s a penalty and what isn’t. I’ve honestly got no idea, and I used to play in the front-row. I’m lost. It’s a completely different beast now
But the scrum did not decide the match as Australia slipped to their 15th consecutive loss to the All Blacks on New Zealand soil; rather the Wallabies proved unable to take their chances while McKenzie accepted the world champions “made it look easy” when they had try-scoring opportunities.
The team is not getting better, if anything it’s getting worse
Having lost The Bledisloe Cup Australia faced the Bocks at home losing convincingly 12 – 38. Wallaby Rugby legend Michael Lynagh summed up the prevailing mood;
This whole year has not been good and I don’t think the team is getting any better – if anything it is getting worse, we didn’t look like scoring, our defence was very poor – something that has been a factor for the last few games – our scrum has gone backwards, our attack is too predictable and there were many handling errors
In response McKenzie seemed to blame his players;
I’m not going to sit here and lament who we don’t have … it’s easy to lament who’s not here but in the end we’ve got the players who have earned their spots and they are desperate to go out there and play. They have to make the most of their opportunities, and it’s their time to shine, so if we’re not getting the outcome then we’ll go back and have a look
A week later came the unconvincing 14 – 13 home victory over Argentina and some positive words;
…now we’ve got a bit of confidence … confidence is a dangerous thing, so we can work with it. You need the win to validate what you’ve been doing … It’s not exactly how we want to do it, but we couldn’t control how the weather was going to be. We haven’t abandoned how we want to play. We haven’t changed anything philosophically. I think the thing that might be lost is that Australia haven’t got a great reputation of winning games in the wet
McKenzie sounds relieved after an ‘ugly’ win. Taking ‘confidence’ out of such a result against the poorest team in the Championship sounds a little desperate. He spurns the opportunity to focus on the qualities in his team or anything else to build confidence, belief or mental strength. Hardly inspiring and two weeks later in South Africa they lost heavily to a dominant Bocks 28 – 8.
McKenzie once again seemed to focus blame on his players
As ESPN reported;
McKenzie once again seemed to focus blame on his players. Before threatening to look at who was not performing he said;
We missed opportunities to put pressure on … we’re letting ourselves down. We missed them through poor execution so it’s a combination of things that are letting us down consistently. It’s very frustrating at the moment but all we can do is keep plugging away and the wheel will turn.
This falls short of an inspiring expression of confidence in his side. The indirect criticisms of his players will not help rapport and could damage his leadership. It’s hard to avoid the view that he is limping from game to game and has forgotten the bigger vision.
It was Australia’s player of the year Quade Cooper who came up with something a little more rousing;
You have to look at yourself and find one thing in your game that you can work on, that you can contribute to the team, that will speed up the process of us improving as a team, … We’ll get there. It’s all in due time. But I urge everyone, it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s something that we’ve got to continue to be upbeat about, but we’ve got to know that it’s a tough process and it’s something that will come. But, right now, it’s just not happening.
After only five games in charge it’s worrying that Australia has to be thinking of rebuilding
Cooper also rightly emphasised McKenzie’s success with Queensland Reds and that he had taken over the national team just wo weeks before the Championship began. Unfortunately that move is beginning to look like fatal timing as he has withered under the battering he and his team have endured.
In November Australia will tour the Northern Hemisphere playing England, (2nd), Italy (9th), Ireland, (16th), Scotland, (23rd), and Wales, (30th). This tour starts with the third Bledisloe Cup tie verses the All Blacks on the 9th October. The disappointing issue for Australian and rugby fans generally is that in the five games he has led the team they have not gained any momentum, in fact in the opinion of Lynagh they’ve got worse.
McKenzie has to now refocus on his long term goal, build a relationship with his players and focus, as he did after the first AB’s game, on the positives they have to build upon and start again. After only five games in charge it’s worrying for Australia that he has to be thinking of rebuilding.impress Inspiration Survey
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