Was it White that Ewen beat Jake for coach of the year?
Ewen McKenzie. AP Photo/Francois Mori
Ewen McKenzie won his fifth Australian Super Rugby coach of the year yesterday and Steve Walsh his first referee of the year award. But both selections posed interesting questions.
Coached by McKenzie, the Queensland Reds were the only Australian franchise to earn a play-off berth for coming top of the Australian Conference, finishing on 58 points with the Brumbies, but winning on a countback with 11 wins to 10 in the regular season.
But the Reds were Super Rugby champions last year, and failed to defend their title.
The Brumbies were close to last in 2011, yet went within a whisker of making this season’s play-off, thanks to their new coach, South Africa’s 2007 Rugby World Cup winning Jake White.
Which begs the question: should the coach of the year award go to the best-performed in that season, or the coach who made the greatest improvement in his franchise over the previous year?
In other words, McKenzie or White?
It was very significant that McKenzie was quick to praise White in his acceptance speech. No surprise in that: McKenzie is at all times an open book and totally honest – a breath of fresh air.
He’s one of the most respected Super Rugby coaches in the tournament’s history.
By naming White so strongly, McKenzie was virtually saying the South African deserved the recognition more than he did. And I agree.
The Brumbies were a basket-case when White took over, a franchise that had been torn apart by insipid player-power and ordinary administration.
Almost overnight, White changed the culture and the Canberra-based franchise played a lot of attractive and attacking rugby in 2012. So much so that they led the Australian Conference for almost the entire tournament, until the wheels fell off in the last two rounds.
Steve Walsh is a very different kettle of fish.
Kiwi born and bred, Walsh crossed the ditch in 2009 to become an Australian citizen and is employed by the ARU.
SANZAR now recognises Walsh as an Australian, which is categorically and legally true.
But that recognition will be really tested when the referee for the Super Rugby final is selected, which will definitely be between a South African team and a New Zealand side, on the neutral referee basis that precludes the world’s best rugby referee – South African Craig Joubert, who controlled the 2011 Rugby World Cup final – from being appointed.
Walsh will be refereeing the semi-final between the Stormers and Sharks at Newlands early Sunday morning AEST, which should make him a laydown misere to control the final.
But for the vast majority of his life – 37 out of 40 years – Walsh has been a New Zealander. And there’s no other Australian born and bred referee good enough to fill the bill.
All of which made for an intriguing presentation lunch in Sydney yesterday.
Reds half-back Will Genia won his second successive player of the year award by a point over David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham, and Christian Lealiifano; and the Reds won the try of the year engineered by winger Dom Shipperley, and the team of the year, dominating the luncheon with four of the six awards.
The rookie of the year went to Brumby back Joe Tomane, who was on crutches.
If there was an award for the quote of the presentation, Tomane would have won that too.
“This time last year I was running around Ipswich playing social rugby. The move to Canberra was good because there’s nothing to do in Canberra.
“And that’s what I like doing. Nothing”.
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