Ewen McKenzie officially named new Wallaby Coach

The humiliating loss to the British & Irish Lions was the straw that eventually broke Robbie Deans’s stubborn back. Having coached Australia for a record 74 times, Deans’s record was average at best. When he took the job he said his mission was to make them the number 1 side in the world – he did not manage this.RW Stamp

A poor win-loss ratio against rivals and neighbors New Zealand, as well as losses (two) to Scotland and Samoa, were the low-lights of an international career that will be soon forgotten.

Deans was never liked by the public, and it always seemed like a massive chore for him to address the media – some would call this ungrateful, as it is the media that allows for their exorbitant paychecks – but he was always respected as a coach. His record with the Crusaders in Super Rugby is unmatched in provincial history, and so one would have expected this to translate into a successful international career. It didn’t.

Many will point to disharmony in the team as a deciding factor, which could be attributed to Deans being their first ever non-Australian coach. But Deans is gone, and another very successful Super Rugby coach (this time with Aussie sides) former Wallaby prop Ewen McKenzie, is now at the helm.

“I’m looking forward to saddling up with the Wallabies,” McKenzie told reporters at a media conference in Sydney on Tuesday. “There’s a thousand things I need to work on.

“I’ll be picking a team that I think can beat the All Blacks and I’m really looking forward to that task.

“It’s a matter of getting the head-space right and getting the tactics right and having a crack.”

Mckenzie beat out hot favourite former Springbok coach and World Cup winner Jake White, who in just a couple of seasons has turned the struggling Brumbies into title contenders.  The thinking seems to be that Australia need and Australian coach, and this writer tends to agree.

With McKenzie coaching the team there will be a new sense of bravery and pride in the jersey – a hallmark of the teams he has coached. We will see a mentally tougher Wallaby side and a more skillful and aggressive Wallaby pack. Whether they can consistently beat the likes of the All Blacks and, to a lesser extent, the Springboks is yet to be seen.

McKenzie’s first test will be when they take on the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship; a tough first-up assignment, but one from which a man like McKenzie would never shy.

SGR

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Is Quade Cooper all that important to the Wallabies?

By far the biggest omission from the Wallaby squad to take on the British and Irish Lions is Reds flyhalf and mercurial talisman, Quade Cooper. When Cooper is on, there is almost no stopping him. He posses a combination of running and kicking skills that cannot be matched by any current player. He beats defenders with ease and creates farm-size tracts of space for the runners outside of him. He can bamboozle the most stubborn of defenses and often leaves quality internationals sprawled in his wake as glides toward the sticks.

But then there is the other side of the coin. The dark side. The erratic side. The party animal side. With any maverick throughout history, you have to take the good with the bad, and when Cooper is off, be it on the field or off, he can bring all those around him down to depths unfathomable. Cooper’s off-field antics saw him dropped from Robbie Deans’s squad, after describing the environment in the Australian national side as “toxic”. When egos clash in sport everyone tends to suffer, as those used to winning often refuse to take a backward step – even, or maybe especially, when they are in the wrong.

A British & Irish Lions tour is bigger than Deans and Cooper; it’s a national event that happens every 12 years for the host country, and the decision not to pick Cooper, could tip the scales in favour of the touring Europeans. Successful rugby teams are often built on good combinations. Front row combinations for scrumming, hooker – lock combinations in the lineouts, center combinations for defense, back three combinations for kick receiving and counter attacking, and then possibly the most important combination, 9 – 10. Here Australia have one of the most most talented and settled combinations in world rugby.RW Stamp

Both Cooper and Will Genia play for the Reds in Super Rugby, and were instrumental in the Reds’ only Super Rugby title win 2 years ago. They are a settled combination, and with Will Genia having no real competition for his number 9 jersey, he would probably prefer to play with Cooper, than with any other flyhalf and with Genia playing a leadership role in the Wallabies setup, one would expect him to have pushed for Cooper’s inclusion.

It is well known that Robbie Deans is rather stubborn and has had a lot of success with teams he has chosen and coached. He trusts himself and his structures to right the Australian ship, but in his 5 years in charge has not managed to turn them into the world-beaters he promised. His reluctance to choose Cooper must be for reasons other than rugby, as his only Tri-Nations trophy came with the Reds man at the helm. The only other possibility is that the feeling within the team is that Cooper is a disruption – but then we have to remember that Australia also have to deal with the even more walk-about Kurtley Beale, who had to be disciplined by his Super Rugby franchise after he got into a brawl with teammates – one of which was his captain.

So is Quade Cooper that important to Wallaby success against a pretty strong British & Irish Lions side? This writer thinks he is. With a spate of injuries, the Aussies won’t cope with the depth of the Lions’ talent if they refuse to pick some of their best players – they just don’t have that luxury. Last time they beat the Lions they had the settled provincial duo of Gregan and Larkham running the game, and one thinks they may need that type of combo again.

SGR

Injuries shake Wallabies as the Lions touch down on Ausie soil

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has had to make three changes to his squad who will face the British and Irish Rugby InjuryLions this month after injuries picked up in this weekend’s Super Rugby fixtures.

Wallaby’s stars  Digby Ioane and Scott Higginbotham as well brumbies lock Sitaleki Timani have been ruled out of the opening exchanged between the two sides.

Kane Douglas, Nick Phipps and Ben McCalman have joined the training squad in their place.

Higginbotham (shoulder) and Timani (thumb) will be told of their prospects of playing in the Lions series after scans scheduled for this week.

“Hopefully I will be able to push on and be available for selection for the Lions, The doctor told me if I don’t need surgery, I am playing. I will have some scans, a bit of rehab and get back into it.” Higginbotham said after the Rebels’ loss.

Ioane underwent surgery last week for damage in his left knee and will not be able to train at all in the build-up to the first test.

“Digby is unable to train. His focus is on getting his knee right, which is why we’ve chosen to bring him in anyway, so our medical staff can oversee the process,” Deans said.

Deans is scheduled to finalise his squad with six further additions on June 11.

Wallabies squad: Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Nick Cummins, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Saia Fainga’a, Israel Folau, Will Genia, Liam Gill, Michael Hooper, Rob Horne, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Christian Leali’ifano, Ben McCalman, Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen, James O’Connor, Wycliff Palu, Nick Phipps, Benn Robinson, Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Joe Tomane.

Kiwi Cotter to coach Scotland

Vern Cotter, who led Clermont to the final of the Heineken Cup this year, will take charge of the Scotland national side as soon as his club contract expires.RW Stamp

Other New Zealanders coaching international  teams:

  • Joe Schmidt – Ireland
  • Warren Gatland – Wales and the British & Irish Lions
  • Robbie Deans – Australia
  • Steve Hansen – New Zealand

SGR

Deans names Wallabies preseason squad

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has named 49 players for his pre-season squad ahead of the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour.Teamsheets

The team is made up of 16 Queensland Reds, 13 NSW Waratahs, 8 ACT Brumbies and the Melbourne Rebels and 4 from the Western Force. The 49 man squad will get together before the Super Rugby competition in preparation for the Lions tour.

Shockingly, Radike Samo, Ben Mowen, Lachie Turner and new rugby league convert Isreal Folau have all been overlooked but the majority of last year’s squad has remained the same.

Deans did however mention that this would not be a definitive squad and Super Rugby form will come into play.

“It doesn’t guarantee them anything, If you’re not here it doesn’t mean you’re not a Wallaby this year – it comes down to what you do on the field. There’s nothing to stop Israel Folau going out there and playing the house down to make the team.” said a Wallaby spokesperson as the squad met up in Sydney.

The team includes 7 uncapped players; Rebels centre Mitch Inman, locks Pyle and Cadeyrn Neville, Reds flank Jake Schatz and utility back Ben Lucas, and Brumbies halfbacks Nic White and Christian Lealiifano.

MM

Wallaby pre-season squad: Saia Faingaa, James Hanson, James Slipper, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Will Genia, Ben Lucas, Quade Cooper, Ben Tapaui, Anthony Faingaa, Mike Harris, Dom Shipperley, Digby Ioane, Luke Morahan, Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Dan Palmer, David Pocock, Nic White, Christian Lealiifano, Pat McCabe, Joe Tomane, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Scott Higginbotham, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Mitch Inman, Cooper Vuna, Salesi Ma’afu, Hugh McMeniman, Ben McCalman, Nick Cummins.

Severely depleted Wallabies to Take on Pumas (teamsheet)

With their 5th fullback in 10 games, the Wallabies go to Argentina with a terrible limp. The Pumas will be licking their lips as they carefully stalk the wounded marsupials – could this be their first win against a Southern Hemisphere powerhouse?

‘We know that the Pumas will be coming straight at us, and will be looking to profit in the collision in the same way that the Springboks did last week,’ said Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.

‘We’ve addressed that, both internally in our discussions, but also with our selection, where we have gone for the players we feel are best suited to that approach.’

Wallabies – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Sitaleki Timani, 5 Nathan Sharpe (capt), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Dave Dennis, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Dominic Shipperley.

SGR

According to Aussie papers Deans is nearly done

When Rugby Window previewed the Bok v Wallaby game last Saturday, we described it as being a watershed (or even Waterloo) for both coaches. The one who lost would be packing his bags very shortly…and it was Deans and his walking wounded who limped off the Loftus Versfeld after receiving a 5 try to 1 hiding.

The Australian media are now calling for his head:

“The coaching future of Robbie Deans will go on the line in Argentina when a second-string Wallabies side takes on the Pumas,” The Daily Telegraph’s Jim Tucker said.

“The unnerving knowledge that the Broken XV in the casualty ward is a far superior line-up to the Wallabies flying into a wild Argentinian ambush is not how Robbie Deans planned to fight for his coaching future.”

“Not after five seasons of triumphs and crashlandings in the big-ticket arenas of Sydney, Brisbane, Durban, Bloemfontein, Twickenham, Murrayfield and, of course, Auckland with that cursed Eden Park patch.”

Former Wallaby captain Andrew Slack said the “messiest” fortnight in Australian rugby’s professional history had pushed Deans’s tenure as national coach close to breaking point.

“Nowadays is it perform or perish,” Slack told the Australian Associated Press.

“People will be looking for a scapegoat and rightly or wrongly the responsibility for the performances rests with the coach.

“There will be a lot of pressure on Robbie heading into the (Argentina) game.

“And if it is a game they lose, that pressure will only intensify but I think even if they win that pressure will still be there.”

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Greg Growden said “disruption and decay” were everywhere.

“Australian Rugby has endured the most dreadful of weeks. And next week could be even worse, with the Wallabies heading deeper into the horror tour from hell,” Growden wrote.

“Disruption and decay are everywhere. (Flyhalf) Quade Cooper dumps on them, the Springboks smash them and now they head to Argentina with the fear that without enough fit bodies they could be decimated by the Pumas.”

The Australian newspaper said Australian rugby was deteriorating fast and called on new ARU chairman Michael Hawker to act.

“If he doesn’t hit the button for the crash cart now, the game will soon slip beyond the point of saving,” the paper’s Wayne Smith said.

“The defibrillator paddles have to be applied and the first jolt needs to shake loose Robbie Deans from the coaching position.

“There is not the slightest doubt that Deans has given his all over the past five years and tried to make the Wallabies work.”

“But clearly they’re not working and that was obvious at Pretoria long before injuries reduced the team to a shambles midway through the second half.”

SGR