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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

McKenzie says no to Wallabies job - for now

[Summary: Ewen McKenzie's decision not to contest the Wallaby coaching position highlights the need for the organizational structure of the coaching team to be decided by the head coach rather than the ARU bureaucrats.]

Ewen McKenzie's decision to withdraw his application for the Wallabies coaching position highlights a couple of interesting issues.

Firstly it draws attention to how unusual it is for the position to be filled by an ex-Wallaby player. To my knowledge there have been only three: Bryan Palmer, John Solomon and Dave Brockhoff. So it is 26 years since Australia has had an ex-international as coach. McKenzie, of course, had a very long and distinguished incumbency of the Wallaby tight-head position.

Although I am not really familiar with the rugby history of other nations, it would appear that the Australian situation is by no means unique. Most international coaches have not played at the top level. I would be grateful if someone can post details for any of the other rugby playing countries.

The other point of note is the suggestion that the Australian Rugby Union is attempting to specify and impose a particular structure on the new coach. It has been reported that McKenzie was concerned that the proposed structure involved "an armada of assistants" and queried whether it would be "an orthodox coaching job."

It is interesting that one member of the selection panel for the position is Rod McQueen who in his tenure as Wallaby coach pioneered the use of multiple specialist assistants. This approach reached its apotheosis - or more correctly its nadir - in the hordes of functionaries who accompanied Clive Woodward's Lions to New Zealand.

The Wallabies are just a single team, therefore requiring "an orthodox coaching job." In any event decisions about the organizational structure of the coaching team should be the province of the head coach, not the ARU bureaucrats or board. After all, he is the one whose head rolls if the team is not sufficiently successful.


Nick said...

South Africa has had a number of former rugby players in coaching positions. The late Dr Daanie Kraven was an SA player, coach and administrator in SA for many years. More recenty Rudolf Streuli was a loose forward part of the 1995 Springbok world cup winning team and coached SA (with a poor win loss ratio), Carel du Plessis coached South Africa (less than succesfully)he was a former wing for SA. Francois Pienaar was a succesfull coach in the UK and Chester Williams has had succes in the sevens game as coach and Naas Botha success as manager and (limited coach) for the under twenty one team. However I think Jake White is one of the beter coaches that SA has had in that he is attempting to come to terms with the proffesional era and scientific training.

I think that there is a need for specialist coaches in rugby working as a team to analyse opponents and help to develop new defensive and modified offensive plays to suit the new opponent. The coach should have complete authority to apoint his team however. At this stage I beleive former players may not be ideal coaches as the game is moving on and what we used to do in 1995 is not where we should be going (other than winning of coarse)

Bruce Ross said...

Looking through the names that you mention, Nick, it would appear that the South African experience is very similar to that of Australia in terms of ex-internationals coaching the senior 15-aside team. Daanie Craven, Rudolf Streuli and Carel du Plessis compared with Australia's Dave Brockhoff, Bryan Palmer and John Solomon.

Apart from the issue of the game evolving, there is also the fact that many of the most gifted international players gained their edge from intuition rather than their analytical capacity. In this respect it will be interesting to see how David Campese performs in South Africa, admittedly in a specialist coaching role.

Bruce Ross said...

Some interesting comments on the Wallaby coaching situation have been made by John Hart, former All Blacks coach.

The Sun-Herald quoted Hart as saying that once the new head coach was appointed, he must be given free rein by the ARU to implement the type of coaching structure he wanted.

"The ARU (Australian Rugby Union) can't say what structure they want and then tell the coach to implement it. It has to be the other way around – the coach has to be in charge of it. The person who gets fired if things go wrong is the coach and he needs to by totally involved in the process of setting up the structure and the appointment of the assistant coaches, other wise it won't work."

Hart also cautioned the ARU against trying to emulate its New Zealand counterpart by mimicking the All Blacks coaching structure.

"It's a unique coaching set up the All Blacks have and to try to reinvent that could be difficult. You need to have coaches who have a rapport with one another and have a similar vision and ideas on the way they want the game to be played.

"With the All Blacks it works well because (Graham) Henry delegates authority well to very good international coaches in their own right (Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen)."

I would agree with John Hart that the New Zealand structure seems to functioning very harmoniously, but it is worth keeping in mind that the All Blacks are enjoying a period of great dominance. It is all very well having three bulls in the one paddock while there are plenty of cows around. But if the New Zealanders show any signs of faltering on the way to the World Cup, the compatibility of three individuals who have all coached at the national level might be tested.