McKenzie or White: who will be the next Wallaby coach?
Ewen McKenzie. AP Photo/Francois Mori
The coaching battle of wits tonight in Canberra between the Reds’ Ewen McKenzie and the Brumbies’ Jake White will give an early indication as to which one will be Wallaby coach in 2014.
It’s a given that incumbent Robbie Deans will return to his home town Christchurch at the completion of his contract in 2013 to pursue his cherished ambition to coach the All Blacks.
So the replacement hunt has begun.
At the end of last season, when the Reds had captured their first Super title playing superb rugby, McKenzie was a laydown misere for the job.
Since then, the Reds have really struggled, and might not even make the play-offs for a chance to defend their title.
While South African Rugby World Cup winning coach White has taken the Brumbies in his first season from a basket-case franchise of internal bickering and destructive player-power into a highly-disciplined, enterprising, and entertaining championship contender.
So McKenzie has two mighty big reasons to win tonight – keep his nose in front for the Wallaby job and stay in the Super Rugby fight with a sniff of defending the title.
Just a sniff, for a loss and it’s game, set, and match.
McKenzie has two big bonuses and a downside in his corner tonight.
The first bonus is no-nonsense referee Steve Walsh, who will give both sides a fair go, something the Reds haven’t received in most of their games so far this season.
The second is the Brumbies’ 115kgs wrecking ball, No 8 Fotu Auelua, is injured and won’t play.
Skipper Ben Mowen moves from flanker to 8, and while he’s playing excellent traditional rugby, he isn’t a devastating destruction unit.
History has a habit of repeating itself. The Brumbies have the mocka on the Reds, winning 16 of their 19 encounters: 84% is a stand-up start, worse still in Canberra, where the Brumbies have won nine out of 10, averaging a scoreline of 33-16.
To help offset that somewhat, the Reds beat the Brumbies 20-13 on Good Friday. That was the Reds’ first win ever over the Brumbies at Suncorp. It makes a huge difference when the Reds play in front of their renowned uplifting sea of red.
But McKenzie hasn’t that invaluable support tonight. His tilt with White will be on “foreign” soil. Advantage White.
This will arguably be the best head-to-head coaching clash of the tournament. It will certainly go a long way to deciding the Australian Conference winner, with an automatic berth into the play-offs.
And the Brumbies not only have history on their side, but the all-important eight-point buffer with five rounds to go.
Any coach would far prefer to be in White’s shoes than McKenzie’s.
But don’t ever sell McKenzie short. He was an internationally revered campaigner as a Wallaby prop with 51 caps, including the 1991 RWC. And he’s just as revered as a coach.
So there’s a lot at stake across the park, promising tonight will produce 80 minutes of prime rugby from the moment Steve Walsh whistles time on.
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