Alan Jones changed the role of Wallaby coach
1984 Grand Slam Wallabies Mark Ella, Steve Williams, current coach Robbie Deans, Alan Jones, Roger Gould, Simon Poidevin and Andrew Slack arrive at the John Eales Medal Awards in Sydney, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009. AAP Image/Sergio Dionisio
When Alan Jones took over the Wallaby coaching job in 1984, it became a position of importance virtually overnight.
Up until then the position was regarded as a necessary evil, officially known as the assistant manager, with a seat at the back of the room at after-match receptions.
The Wallaby manager was the king-pin, he sat at the top table and answered media questions, he was chairman of selectors.
Jones dramatically changed the pecking order en route to the only Australian Grand Slam and regaining the Bledisloe Cup, during his watch.
Since then the Wallaby coach is the go-to man, just as it should have been all along. Most rugby fans have never known the manager’s name after the Jones breakthrough.
And still don’t.
Bobby Dwyer (1988-1996) followed Jones, before Greg Smith (1996-1997) kicked off the professional era, then Rod Macqueen (1997-2001), Eddie Jones (2001-2005), John Connolly (2006-2007) into the current Robbie Deans since 2008.
Each had their own way of directing Australian rugby, with Macqueen the undisputed king capturing the 1999 World Cup, the Bledisloe Cup, the Tri-Nations, and the historic 2-1 series win over the Lions.
Deans has the chance to emulate Macqueen this season – a huge ask.
It’s Deans’ make or break second half of the year with the Lions, the Bledisloe, the Rugby Championship, and the end-of-year tour to the northern hemisphere before his contract runs out.
But the outcome of the Lions series is his most critical. Win that and the rest of the year takes on an new meaning.
Lose it, and there’s every possibility Deans’ contract will be terminated on the spot.
And as luck would have it, Ewen McKenzie and Jake White are both knocking on Deans’ door.
Yet they are also Deans’ insurance policy to put a winning Wallaby squad onto the paddock.
McKenzie turned a red rabble into a championship winning side in 2011, and they will be contenders again this year.
As will the Brumbies, thanks to White turning a player-power self-destructive squad into a tightly-knit championship contender in a season and a bit.
And because McKenzie and White have been so successful, they have produced the form footballers, and it’s that form that can keep Deans his job.
The bulk of the Wallaby squad to meet the Lions should come from the Reds and the Brumbies,
But if a large percentage of Waratahs who haven’t been pulling their weight for Michael Cheika sneak into the squad, Deans could be in trouble.
To prove the point, tonight’s Brumbies line-up includes 12 probable-possible Wallabies – skipper Ben Mowen, George Smith, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Dan Palmer, Peter Kimlin, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano, Joe Tomane, Pat McCabe, and Jesse Mogg,
Tomorrow afternoon there will be another 12 Reds on Wallaby selection show – Will Genia, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, James Slipper, James Hanson, Greg Holmes, Liam Gill, Jake Schatz, Quade Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Dom Shipperley, and Anthony Fainga’a.
Those two sides should provide the bulk of the Wallaby squad on form alone, and a fascinating head-to-head to top the Australian Conference for an automatic play-off berth.
They will also give a guideline as to the next Wallaby coach if Robbie Deans calls halt in December, or is halted.
The season is just starting to get interesting on so many fronts.