Dave Rennie’s Wallabies coaching appointment highlights sad state of Australian rugby
When director of rugby Scott Johnson and the brains trust at Rugby Australia sat down to consider the contenders to be the new Wallabies coach, how many Australians were on their short list?
Well, probably none. Not very many anyway and none of them serious contenders.
The great tragedy of the appointment of Kiwi Dave Rennie to take over from Michael Cheika is that once again Australia, once a powerhouse of world rugby, can’t come up with an Aussie to coach the national side.
The only Australians who might have been considered were Eddie Jones, whose paymasters in England insisted he would not be leaving, and Brumbies coach Dan McKellar. And McKellar, of course, ruled himself out, saying he was not yet ready to coach the Wallabies. With all due respect, he was probably correct.
That left a field of New Zealanders — reportedly Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, a strong contender to get the All Blacks job, Japan coach Jamie Joseph and Rennie.
It’s hard to be critical of the decision to appoint Rennie, who comes with a solid CV. He coached the Chiefs to two Super Rugby titles and has had success with the Glasgow Warriors.
He may well turn the Wallabies around, particularly if he has his former assistant coach Wayne Smith — no, not The Australian’s rugby editor, the former All Blacks tactician — on his staff.
But the fact that no Australian coach was on the radar is an outrage. And it is symptomatic of the decline of Australian rugby.
The game is in crisis from top to bottom in Australia: under siege from other codes in the schools, underfunded at club level, underwhelming in Super Rugby and under the gun internationally.
The National Rugby Championship is a white elephant, Super Rugby teams are struggling — poor performances and crowds down — and the Wallabies have just produced their worst result in World Cup history.
The system that once produced a steady stream of great players has sputtered to a halt. Pathways for young players are breaking down, many talented youngsters are switching to rugby league and even established Wallabies are being lured overseas.
But just as importantly, the struggling system is no longer producing world-beating coaches. The country that once developed Bob Dwyer, Rod Macqueen, Alan Jones and John Connolly — to name just a few — has no one.
New Zealand has an unrivalled system for developing great rugby players, but it also puts emphasis on developing great coaches. NZ Rugby has a firm hand on the coaching structure at all levels nationally but also across the provinces. The result is an embarrassment of coaching riches. It is a system that Australia should look closely at.
Rugby Australia has an opportunity for renewal early next year with the departure of chairman Cameron Clyne and three other vacancies on the board.
It is a chance for bold change, change that will begin the rebuild of the code in Australia from the schools up. Change that will help Australia develop another generation of Wallaby greats. And, hopefully, change that will give us an Australian worthy of coaching the Wallabies.
Coach isn't the problem.
RA is the problem. Get rid of those who got rid of Israel Folau and get him back - and go back to pinching Rugby League players.
Latrell Mitchell is looking for a million dollars a year. Small change.