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16.04.22

Rugby Australia must avoid prematurely picking next Wallabies coach

The sporting story of the week, way above any rugby story, concerns the great Tiger Woods.

As one who has had hours and hours of surgery on my back, including a spinal fusion and, recently, four operations in five weeks, you can’t help but draw inspiration from this remarkable athlete.

He might not have driven particularly straight and his touch in chipping might have eluded him at times; he didn’t sail to the top of the leaderboard, but what a fighting spirit.

Forget, for the moment, that he came 47th.

But who finished behind him – Adam Scott, and then those who missed the cut, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Bernhard Langer, Justin Rose, Larry Mize and Vijay Singh.

When Tiger signed off for 71 in the first round, there were only a couple of players 3 shots ahead of him.

Tiger remarked, “I am as sore as I expected to feel”.

How he felt at the end of 72 holes is impossible to contemplate.

One writer appropriately said, “The dial was turned up for the first round when there was a messianic air around Woods, with armies of humanity flocking to see him.”

In the annals of sport, it is, indeed, amazing.

Back home, if you look at the Super Rugby table, you would think everything is on track in Australian rugby.

The Brumbies are on top and the Reds and the Waratahs are placed fourth and fifth respectively.

This is an illusion.

The Australian teams have been playing each other at home and away.

No Aussie franchise has played against a Kiwi team yet.

After this round, all of that will change and our teams will face their Kiwi counterparts.

However, the Australian teams will only play the Kiwi teams once in the competition whilst they would have played their countrymen twice.

It is sad to say but the competition is rigged to ensure Aussie teams make the playoffs.

Whatever the case, it will be instructive to see the best Aussie teams, the Reds and the Brumbies test themselves against the Blues and the Crusaders; and that will all start after this weekend’s round of Super Rugby matches.

Meanwhile, the Wallabies prepare for their season against England in July.

It would appear that their starting fullback, Tom Banks, is yet to sign a new contract for Rugby Australia.

This is the young man that I chose, virtually from nowhere, to play for us in the Barbarians match against the Wallabies some years ago.

I thought he had everything, though he needed to improve his speed off the mark.

He should be the starting fullback for Australia but he hasn’t signed a new contract, with a big Japanese deal on the table.

If Tom Banks chooses to play his club rugby in Japan, it may mean the end of his “Test” career.

This situation is clearly crazy.

As I have said a thousand times, we should be picking the best Australian players regardless on where they play their club rugby.

Rugby Australia needs to scrap the latest version of Giteau’s Law and pick the best.

They should also take note that the Reds’ coach, Brad Thorn, is keen to coach the Wallabies once Dave Rennie has finished up.

You’d think Rugby Australia would have learnt a lesson the last time they tried to prematurely impose a coaching succession plan.

You will recall when Michael Cheika was the Wallabies’ coach, Stephen Larkham was lined up to be his successor.

Clearly that experiment was flawed and Larkham lost his job as assistant coach in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup.

Now, Rugby Australia have signed up the Brumbies coach, Dan McKellar, as an assistant Wallabies coach.

Like Larkham, McKellar is leaving the Brumbies on the promise of being the next Wallabies coach.

This line of thinking was flawed when Larkham made his mistake.

It remains a dumb idea.

International rugby coaching is a cut-throat business.

A lot happens very quickly.

Right now, Brad Thorn has the wood on Dan McKellar as a coach but now someone at Rugby Australia is leaking against him.

So why would Rugby Australia promise McKellar the keys to the Wallaby coaching role?

Of course, all of this may change by the end of 2023, but that is exactly why Rugby Australia should make no promises to any coach.

Like players, coaches can go off the boil.

My advice to Hamish McLennan is this.

Make no promises to any coach and only make your succession choice down the track. It makes no sense to be making long-term coaching decisions before they need to be made.

In fact, it tempts fate when rugby’s blazer brigade attempt to shape history.

Next week I will look at this mindless issue of yellow and red cards and referees, alone, determining the outcome of important games.

Growing the game should be our primary objective.

How this happens with the way things are currently happening is beyond my understanding.