When will Ewen McKenzie get the selection message?

David Lord Columnist

166 Have your say

Popular article! 6,099 reads

    Rugby fans will likely never know the full story behind Ewen McKenzie's resignation. (AAP Image/ Dave Hunt)

    Related coverage

    Robbie Deans lost his Wallaby job because of not enough wins, hard-to-fathom selections, and an even harder to comprehend use of his bench.

    But Ewen McKenzie is giving the most successful provincial coach in history a run for his money.

    In Deans’ last three Tests, had he not chosen James O’Connor at 10 from left-field ahead of Quade Cooper, the Wallabies would have beaten the British and Irish Lions 2-1.

    Had that been the case, there’s every reason Deans would still be in command. But ‘if’ never wins anything, so the comment is purely hypothetical.

    McKenzie has followed pretty much the same path, with the one exception – McKenzie in his 19 Tests to date has never beaten the All Blacks, with four losses and a draw, Deans beat the All Blacks 34-19 at his first attempt in 2008, but lost the next four in his first 19 Tests.

    Now the real comparison.

    The fly-half position is where both Deans ans McKenzie have come unstuck.

    Deans’ selection of O’Connor was matched by McKenzie when he gave the nod to Kurtley Beale for the back-to-back internationals against the men in black.

    If Deans made some weird selections, Beale was McKenzie’s weird comparison.

    McKenzie had two frontline alternatives – Bernard Foley, who had orchestrated the Waratahs to their first Super title in 19 years, and Matt Toomua, who took the Brumbies to the Super semis, only to be beaten by the Waratahs.

    But no, McKenzie gives the nod to Beale, who had been the midfield general at inside centre in the Waratahs’ Super win, and the perfect link with the code’s best game-breaker – Israel Folau.

    To compound the error, McKenzie links Beale with Brumbies half Nic White, instead of Waratahs half Nick Phipps.

    That combination lasted two games, and up surfaced Phipps and Foley against the Boks and Pumas for two wins, with Beale shunted off to the bench.

    But it gets worse.

    James Hanson has done a superb job in the hooking role as one rake after another had been added to the injured list.

    Not so, according to McKenzie, Hanson’s been benched for Queensland teammate Saia Fainga’a, who hasn’t started in a Test for nearly four years.

    Veteran Wallaby and Waratah prop Benn Robinson was ignored by McKenzie for the three Tests against France, the two against the All Blacks, and the two Tests against the Boks and Pumas.

    But Robinson turns up on the bench for tomorrow morning’s clash with the Boks at Newlands. Better late than never.

    Beale is still on the bench, but Joe Tomane, who hasn’t played a Test since last November against Wales, is on the wing and out goes Rob Horne.

    What did Horne do wrong? He’s playing the best rugby of his career, he’s found his real position on the wing, thanks to Waratah coach Michael Cheika, who also made Beale a world-class inside centre. But now Horne’s with the splinter brigade.

    Not finished yet.

    Why did McKenzie select three half-backs for a two-match tour?

    It’s great to see Will Genia back in action, but not sitting in the Newlands stand – he didn’t even make the bench. He would have been far better off playing in the National Rugby Championship, and getting ready for the end of year tour, than being a spectator in Cape Town and possibly Argentina.

    But I’ve left the worst selection until last – ignoring giant lock Will Skelton.

    Interestingly, Cheika took McKenzie to task last week, saying there was no problem with Skelton’s work-rate when he was wearing a blue jersey. That was a none-too-subtle reprimand from Cheika, who has been a master at making the right selections for two seasons.

    To top that off during the week, I read the Wallabies will target champion Bok lock Victor Matfield at Newlands.

    Really? And who is going to do the targeting – Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, and James Horwill? Maybe Scott Higginbotham?

    I can see the grin on Matfield’s face now. Matfield is one of the very best locks I’ve seen over 50 years, and nobody will ever target him unless they have a burning desire to look foolish, and/or second rate.

    The best the Wallabies can do against Matfield and his lock partner Eben Etzebeth, no slack either, will be to keep as much pressure as possible on the pair and hope they make a mistake – then pounce.

    Add all that up, and Ewen McKenzie has made a rod for his own back, and that of the team, with his hard-to-fathom selections.

    At the risk of being charged with treason, I expect the Boks to win this Test handsomely, and retain the Nelson Mandela Trophy.

    Maybe then Ewen McKenzie will see the selection light that Robbie Deans rarely saw.

    David Lord
    David Lord

    David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn’t get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world’s great sporting spectacles