The best candidate for the Waratahs job is in Brisbane
Ewen McKenzie. AP Photo/Francois Mori
It was against the Hurricanes in round 15 that doubts about Michael Foley’s longevity at the Waratahs really overtook the logic for both parties staying together.
On that miserable night in Sydney the visitors put the Waratahs to the sword, winning 33-12 and collecting a four-try bonus point in the process.
Replacement Hurricanes halfback Chris Eaton scored that final try at the end of the match, and not a single Waratahs hand was laid on him.
The NSW front row – deemed good enough to take on Wales over the following three weeks – barely made a dent in a Hurricanes scrum that included one promising but raw prop, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, who hadn’t even played NPC rugby in New Zealand prior to this year’s Super Rugby season.
Fast forward to this weekend’s Sun-Herald and Greg Growden’s column headlined “Foley has lost the dressing room”, which was the public death knell for his tenure.
A coach – especially one in his first year in the head coaching role – can survive a series of tactical miscalculations, but when it looks like the heart has gone out of the team, the curtains are being drawn.
Of course, there had been calls for Foley’s head well before the Hurricanes game.
Another viewpoint – which was weakened significantly after the Hurricanes debacle – was that Foley deserved another year, with the harsh lessons of 2012 providing a tough schooling from which he would emerge a better coach. That argument will might be tested next year at the Force.
Regardless, the search is now on for his replacement at the Waratahs, and the demands are onerous.
The incoming candidate will have to be experienced with a thorough knowledge of the Australian player market. They will have an ability to communicate easily with a mixture of Test stars and up-and-comers, and build a rapport with the squad while leaving no one in doubt about who runs the show.
A track record of producing successful rugby, while allowing gifted players to express themselves in a way that is pleasing to the eye, would also be desirable.
If those requirements are not immediately pointing in one direction – to Ewen McKenzie in Brisbane, then the Waratahs’ recruitment radar is seriously on the blink.
McKenzie is probably the only man whose appointment alone could reinvigorate the Waratahs faithful and bring back some optimism into the franchise.
Presently the fans are better known for gallows humour and not turning up for games. How that would change with the best coach in Australia on deck.
Presumably, a number of obstacles will be thrown up in the way of a potential approach. Hearty servings of pride would have to be swallowed following the Waratahs’ decision not to renew McKenzie’s contract after making the 2008 Super Rugby final.
But the Waratahs are not in a buyer’s market. You have to wind all the way back to April for the last time they won a game of rugby.
It is time to take the medicine.
On the supply side, McKenzie might not be in the mood to take any calls. Frankly, who could blame him?
He might also consider that he has unfinished business at the Reds, although the hiring of Richard Graham does create a situation in which there are two head coaches in Brisbane next year.
But if the question is not asked by NSW, and until that rebuttal is received, will the Waratahs be doing everything within their powers to address the slide they are in? And if and when they get that knockback, they should go back again in two days with a better offer and greater reassurances things will run to McKenzie’s liking.
Other candidates have already been proposed, Michael Cheika among them.
Before his spell at Stade Francais, Cheika enjoyed success at Leinster, winning the Heineken Cup in 2009.
It was noticeable after this year’s Heineken Cup triumph that while Leinster the players hailed Cheika for introducing a winning mentality, they credited the New Zealander Joe Schmidt as the coach who taught them to win with style.
Still, Cheika’s ability to turn around the previously underachieving Irish province is a strong selling point on his resume.
Another name that should warrant consideration is Nick Mallett. The former South Africa coach was knocked back by England and reportedly declined a chance to be interviewed by the Blues, but he might find Sydney a closer fit to the Cape Town lifestyle he currently enjoys.
His fresh pair of eyes and no-nonsense style and certainly would shake up a side that has appeared to lack a rudder at times this season.
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.
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