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EXCLUSIVE: Rod Macqueen AM reveals his ‘Einstein Blueprint’ to fix Australian rugby

Rod Macqueen AM Columnist

By Rod Macqueen AM, Rod Macqueen AM is a Roar Expert New author!

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    Roar Exclusive: The Roar approached the Wallabies’ most successful coach, Rod Macqueen AM, for his thoughts on how rugby can run with the ball in Australia again. His answer is the ‘Einstein Project’.

    Can Einstein fix Aussie rugby?

    One of my favourite Einstein quotes is when he was conducting a physics class examination and one of his students pointed out the questions were the same as last year. Einstein replied: “Yes, but this year the answers are different”.

    That applies so much to sport and business, and particularly to rugby as it is today. So, here are my thoughts about some of this year’s answers…

    Our own unique and united rugby plan

    Rugby union has changed significantly since the beginning of professionalism and is continuing to evolve. If we look at the key performance indicators of some of the top New Zealand, teams there has been a dynamic change, predominantly over the last ten years.

    Australian rugby has lost a great deal of its intellectual property edge; countries around the world have taken a lot of the innovations the Wallabies introduced and are now well ahead with their own initiatives.

    New Zealand, especially, has undertaken an inspired business plan to put systems in place to take their rugby into the future. They continue to work together to develop their skill level and physicality which keeps them at the very top.

    This has been achieved by further deepening a united pride in the New Zealand rugby community and the way they play the game.

    Brodie Retallick celebrates with teammates

    (AFP photo/Franck Fife)

    No short fix – bottom up, top down

    Australian rugby is now at the stage where it must undertake a plan that is not a short fix, but rather a plan based on creativity, data and evidence-based innovation. We need to develop and build an understanding of how the game will be played in the next five years.

    The appointment of Rod Kafer is a great initiative by the ARU. Rod has always had a clear and insightful understanding and appreciation of the game. Looking to the future, we need to develop and build a brand of rugby that is unique to Australia and gives us many on-field options.

    Once we have this blueprint, we will need to select the personnel and skill sets to match.

    Armed with a vision and a plan, we need to embark on a nationwide program and include the grassroots on the journey. The people in the clubs are the hearts and minds of our game. To be successful, we must have a unified sharing approach. We should take the game to the nation; educate the grassroots juniors, the age representative levels and senior ranks.

    An important element of this proposed new connection would be developing a respectful Australian culture with enjoyment and pride being a key factor.

    Supporting this would be an obligation from contracted players to spend time with allocated club sides. This would achieve two things – increasing the knowledge and skills of the club sides and ensuring that the professional players continue to have a strong bond with the grassroots.

    Initiative – on and off the pitch

    We also need to be mindful, proactive and clear with our goal setting.

    For example, it was critical for us to win the Tests against England last year. As a lead-up to that series, England had just competed in the Six Nations.

    Conversely, Australia did not have a lead-up game at all. We should never undertake a critically important task like that without having at least two warm-up games. In today’s unforgiving professional game, you simply cannot give another team that sort of advantage.

    We also need to be aware of the highly competitive sports marketing environment in which we now operate. The recently-announced decision to appoint Alan Jones as coach of the Barbarians team (another good initiative), not only provides the Wallabies with an important warm-up game, but opens up new options and sparks great interest.

    Kids are our future players and fans

    Boys and girls are our future and it’s going to be extremely important that we address the participation issue as soon as possible. All other sports are well advanced in meeting the challenge.

    Rod Macqueen AM with his rugby team.

    For example, some years ago Tennis Australia came up with a simple solution when looking at new ways to introduce their game to young kids. Tennis developed the now highly-recognised success story, Hot Shots, a simple concept that used a smaller court, along with three different coloured and pressure balls, as well as modified racquets.

    The program is designed to help every child, no matter their age or ability, to jump in and start playing tennis, competing and having fun, while at the same time developing their skills and co-ordination.

    We have a tremendous opportunity to take a new approach with our rugby juniors by using digital media to develop a series of simple, innovative and exciting games to make it fun for the kids and easier for the coaches; at the same time, they will develop the specific skills that our national plan has set for the Australian game in the future.

    Apps can be developed to support the ongoing education and programs which can go direct to the junior clubs and coaches.

    The implementation of these thoughts will not be easy because people perceive change as risk, however the greatest risk is not changing our thinking. As Einstein said, “This year the answers are different”.

    Rod Macqueen AM
    Rod Macqueen AM

    Rod Macqueen AM is the most successful Wallabies coach in history. Regarded as one of rugby's greatest innovators, he helped Australia win every trophy available to them, including the Bledisloe Cup, World Cup, Tri-Nations trophy and the Cook Cup. His final act as Wallabies coach was seeing them defeat the British and Irish Lions in 2001, after which he retired with a remarkable 81 per cent winning record. He also enjoyed successful stints in charge of the Waratahs and Brumbies, and was the inaugural coach of the Melbourne Rebels.

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    The Crowd Says (139)

    • July 28th 2017 @ 9:31am
      Fionn said | July 28th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      ‘Tennis developed the now highly-recognised success story, Hot Shots, a simple concept that used a smaller court, along with three different coloured and pressure balls, as well as modified racquets.’

      Australia did not invent the program, in reality we adopted a program that had already been in place in many overseas countries for decades (Spain and France being the two best examples).

      I am not saying this to contradict you, Rod (I am full agreement), but simply pointing out that it is okay to develop ideas and IP from other, more successful, countries. We don’t need to reinvent the world, we just need to work out what is successful elsewhere and figure out how to adapt it to Australia’s unique conditions and circumstances, as Tennis Australia did with Hotshots (which was a brilliant initiative, and has been very successful).

      Thanks for the words, Rod. Cheers mate.

      • July 28th 2017 @ 9:45am
        Working Class Rugger said | July 28th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        There’s a lot of good stuff in the article.

        I agree with Dion about not having to reinvent the wheel by taking what works not only from Rugby internationally but from other sports.

        • July 28th 2017 @ 10:48am
          ethan said | July 28th 2017 @ 10:48am | ! Report

          Ditto. One does not want to be unique for the sake of it. Rather, one wants to be unique because they see a clear area of opportunity in doing so. We shouldn’t rack our brains on how to be unique. We should rack our brains on the ways to win rugby matches (and each small contest within a rugby match).

          But if we substitute the word ‘unique’ with ‘creative’, then that I have no issue with. Being creative and thinking outside the box can often lead to answers, and at the very least should prevent us making the same mistakes over again.

          Nice to have Macqueen back in the picture though. Hopefully he spends time working with Kafer.

          • Roar Guru

            July 28th 2017 @ 2:51pm
            sheek said | July 28th 2017 @ 2:51pm | ! Report


            I like what you say. There is no point in being unique for the sake of it.

            Everyone knows how NZ is going to play against you. They are going to be tough, uncompromising & in your face the whole game.

            Every game, every year, every decade, every century.

            Often they’ll have better skills as well. But if they perceive you might actually have better talent, then they’ll just be in your face.

            Before changing politics compromised their game, everyone knew how SA was going to play against you.

            They were going to suck the energy out of you with a monster pack, using set pieces & playing for position & kicking penalty goals. Then when you totally exhausted, run in a few late tries.

            Every game, every year, every decade, every century.

            Some years ago when I was considering my own sports webpage I opined to my tech savvy young advisor that I might have to think of a new, different angle.

            My wise tech savvy young advisor replied, “You don’t have to be different, just better. You can do the same as anyone else, but make sure you do it better”.

            I thought it was brilliant advice from a younger fella.

            Getting back to the rugby, it doesn’t matter if the opposition knows how you’re going to play. They’re still going to have to find a way of beating you with their own better play.

            • July 28th 2017 @ 4:15pm
              Red Block said | July 28th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

              Well said Sheek,
              Picasso had a saying, ‘ Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.’
              In other words, we take the ideas of others and make them our own or we end up as poor imitations.

              • July 28th 2017 @ 8:54pm
                Last Straw said | July 28th 2017 @ 8:54pm | ! Report

                It’s only stealing if you take it from one source. It’s reseach if you take it from many….

            • July 29th 2017 @ 4:47am
              USA Kiwi said | July 29th 2017 @ 4:47am | ! Report

              Totally agree. Look at the superbowl winning Steelers. When that team set up 5 yards out from the end zone and the running back Jerome Bettis was standing behind the quarterback, everybody knew what was going to happen. Betts “cannon balling” it into the end zone. The problem was, no one could stop him.

            • July 29th 2017 @ 10:43am
              ethan said | July 29th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

              Nice anecdote Sheek I like that motto – you don’t have to be different, just better.

        • July 28th 2017 @ 1:14pm
          woodart said | July 28th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

          first thing is forget about the unique to australia nonsense. teams play each other so much that nothing stays unique for long. rugby evolves and smart coaches have to evolve with it.

      • Roar Guru

        July 28th 2017 @ 2:24pm
        stillmissit said | July 28th 2017 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

        Fionn: Totally disagree. If cannot or will not re-invent the wheel – we may catch on BUT we will never catch up.

        Rod McQueen is our most successful coach because he wanted to re-invent our game and few in the ARU wanted to know about it but they were stuck with Rod as there were few options. He brought a level of professionalism that had been missing, a strong forward edge combined with agressive D to allow the backs to do their thing.

        I (and many others) have been banging on for a year about the lack of fitness compared to NZ and only now is it starting to be addressed. Then there is our brain-dead breakdown efforts and poor kick chase and driving up, in a line, at speed. in the D. There are a heap of things but this is only about doing what the Kiwi’s have been doing for a year, this is not innovation.

        It is not just the basics that need fixing, it is the whole box and dice that has been going down the toilet since ROd McQueens time..

        • July 28th 2017 @ 2:45pm
          Fionn said | July 28th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

          Well, that isn’t the attitude that Tennis Australia undertook.

          As opposed to doing our own thing (as we did for years beforehand), we decided to study what was successful in places like Spain and France and then transported the system to Australian conditions.

          And it has been, although it is early days, successful.

          • July 28th 2017 @ 4:38pm
            Jacko said | July 28th 2017 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

            Fionn spot on. For me getting junior participation is the key to long term future of the sport…Tennis seems to have worked it out…As has many other sports…Rugby will …eventually…
            The silly thing is that NZ has been across the Tasman for ever and yet nothing seems to be learned…Maybe that is part of it…Why copy NZ when we can do it just as well?…Well they cant do it just as well and the complete system of Rugby has broken down to the extent that coaching is also lacking and junior numbers are going ok but Senior pathways, if not a super Player, seem to be a bit lost. Hopefully the NRC continues to improve and there is more talent coming thru that is at SUPER standard or capable of being at SUPER standard

        • Roar Guru

          July 28th 2017 @ 5:08pm
          Hoy said | July 28th 2017 @ 5:08pm | ! Report

          I think we all push on, but people forget that McQueens success was forged by leading professionalism at the time, but also the style of the game at the time. We had a game at the time that rewarded possession. Interpretations favoured possession and the contest was a lot less than now, despite the offside lines etc not existing back then.

          We had great players, a great, innovative coach, and were at the right time to take advantage of the game as it was then, when possession ruled, and was able to build continuity.

          Just a thought on McQueen’s success.

        • July 29th 2017 @ 4:51am
          USA Kiwi said | July 29th 2017 @ 4:51am | ! Report

          McQueen had a superhuman as a lock/captain/goal kicker. He was the difference that made a.very good team a great team.

    • Roar Guru

      July 28th 2017 @ 9:48am
      pformagg said | July 28th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      The Wallabies have picked Brands over Heart. We catered to the O’Connor’s Beale’s and Cooper’s for a decade and lost the sole of a winning “team” side. We then got a coach who wanted mongrel and heart but decided to pick out of form Tah players over form players. Who played guys out of position and doesn’t seem to want to change tack no matter what advice comes his way.

      There is no easy fix, but the Brumbies and the Force have shown something. A glimmer of hope of what a team can achieve with honing basic skills and playing a forward dominated game that has been missing in Australian rugby.

      • July 28th 2017 @ 10:03am
        connor33 said | July 28th 2017 @ 10:03am | ! Report

        Both the Brumbies and the Force have played cerebral rugby this year…I think the Force were hard done by in SA and could well have gone further than they did…this clip certainly shows their bona fides to running rugby…I am now under no illusions that if a team needs to go, it must be the Rebels….this clip of the Force is brilliant (and I am a Brumby, if anything):

        • Roar Rookie

          July 28th 2017 @ 10:40am
          piru said | July 28th 2017 @ 10:40am | ! Report

          I enjoyed that video Connor, thank you

          • Roar Guru

            July 28th 2017 @ 2:33pm
            stillmissit said | July 28th 2017 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

            Me too. . The Force must be retained and the Rebels may have more going for them than the Tahs atm,

          • July 30th 2017 @ 12:49am
            ThugbyFan said | July 30th 2017 @ 12:49am | ! Report

            Hi Piru, I had a quick look in the rugby section of the SMH on the Monday after the last week of Super Rugby when an Australian Powerhouse got FLOGGED by the Force. Every Monday is Paul Cully’s Aussie players Team of the Week, where the best Aussie player of the 5 different franchises are selected for each position. Usually its Tahs, Reds and Brumbies with A.Colemen dragging the rear. Remember that week all three (and Rebels) got beaten and that particular Monday, Cully named the entire Force team, all 1-15, as his Team of the Week.

            Nice YouTube, Connor33 and as BobWire says below, the backs get their heads in the video but its usually because of those piggies. A shame M.Cheika doesn’t read the SMH or watch Force games. We may have seen a few less of the powderpuff toy boys from the east in the Wallabiy train-on squad and some tough nuts aka: M.Philip, R.Arnold and Ross H-P get a run. They certainly deserved it.

        • July 28th 2017 @ 11:51am
          Perthstayer said | July 28th 2017 @ 11:51am | ! Report

          Connor – Likewise, thanks.

        • July 28th 2017 @ 3:10pm
          Bob Wire said | July 28th 2017 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

          Good vid., the backline boys look the part, let’s not forget the forwards who set up the platform..

        • July 28th 2017 @ 3:35pm
          RahRah said | July 28th 2017 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

          Thx Connor, I enjoyed that too.

        • Roar Guru

          July 28th 2017 @ 3:44pm
          Timbo (L) said | July 28th 2017 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

          I know I am biassed, and this was a best-of reel. I noticed a number of those tries had 1 or 2 other Force guys there, in support, egging them in, sometimes they were needed to finish, other times just to help celebrate,

          I agree and I I saw a lot of Rosco and a bit of Matt Philip in the plays as well – and in the back line. This is a sign that they can finish as well as set the field up for a back line breakout. These guys are underrated and unrewarded. (Not by us Force fans of course).

        • July 28th 2017 @ 4:47pm
          scottd said | July 28th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report


        • Roar Guru

          July 29th 2017 @ 8:27pm
          Rabbitz said | July 29th 2017 @ 8:27pm | ! Report

          The thing that struck me, was they all seemed to know where the support players would be and confident that they would be there providing the support.

          There used to be a word for it. Oh, I remember “teamwork”.

    • July 28th 2017 @ 9:53am
      connor33 said | July 28th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Thank you for this excellent article, Rod–and the vision. Several things struck me about the article:

      1. Innovation and IP – this is something that is so important to AU rugby, and I am bloody grateful that you put a spotlight on it in this piece. Since the 80s, I think AU rugby has punched above its weight because of its IP. And while, in my humble opinion, other nations have not adopted it outright, it has been adopted. The Abs try in 2000 is probably the best example, but I don’t think they’re infringing upon the IP at that level now. It is, more as you say, pride in the jersey (aka passion). That said, there has been upskilling in the ABs game that can’t be denied through an Aussie AFL skills coach that has upskilled their forwards to catch and pass at a level that no other team can apply–but those forwards sure as hell could not do what those ABs did in 2000 through blatant copying of Australian/Randwick (1980) rugby. Larkham and Cheika can no doubt play a big role in bringing us back–and modifying AU rugby at the same time….

      My thoughts are that the team that wins the 2019 WC will be the team that brings the best of what the Abs have applied in the last few years with what AU applied in the 80s,90s and 2000s. That is what Eddie wants from England being the Randwick alum that he is. And he is getting it.

      2. Contract player ties – this is critical. And the surf club mentality that you were able to bring to the Wallabies at Coffs, where I grew up as a kid, is what we now need. Coffs is not too far from Newcastle–so perhaps there’s some good parallels…

      Thank you, thank you for writing what you did… it means the bloody world to all AU rugby supporters, and others can cut me down if they think otherwise….

      • July 28th 2017 @ 10:07am
        RedandBlack said | July 28th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

        Isn’t perspective a funny thing? I remember articles at the time of the ‘blatant copying’ over here praising the Randwick side for being clever enough to play a kiwi style game. Its a closed cupboard guys – not many tools in there that haven’t seen the light of day before – the trick is to grab what you need and apply it well.

        • July 28th 2017 @ 10:18am
          connor33 said | July 28th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

          Some apply it better than others…Randwick were the best in application and the application of an idea is enough to create IP–they owned it during the 80,90s and 2000s, as did AU. Kudos to those who copied.

          But read what I posted, because I am unsure you did because you didn’t actually appreciate what I said–because of your AB bias–I actually tipped my hat to the ABs (something kiwis don’t do enough of over the past 3-4 decades re AU) but that’s ok, we get 91….but, regardless, the team that wins the 2019 WC will be the team that incorporates the best of the 80s,90s,2000s with (plus) what the ABs have developed in the last 4-5 years (with an Aussie Rules guru, no less, that is now on pay-roll of AU rugby)….

          • July 28th 2017 @ 1:24pm
            woodart said | July 28th 2017 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

            All Blacks were running the ball 100 years ago, not much is new.

          • July 28th 2017 @ 3:43pm
            taylorman said | July 28th 2017 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

            You have an inate ability to take something minuscule and project it to the stratosphere as gospel, it’s quite amusing what rationale you’re going to come up with next. ?

    • July 28th 2017 @ 9:56am
      Craig said | July 28th 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      One thing that is never broached is the attitude of “you must have gone to a private school and/or play for the ‘more’ successful local club side to progress.” This has the effect of the same teams winning the local comps every year which in turn parents then take their kids to those clubs because they think little Johnny out Gemima will make it to the big time through these clubs. This in turn weakens the other clubs, diluting the competition and which then ultimately leads to the closure of that club.

      What I would like to see is boundary applied to each club side and a limit to the number of players allowed to sign per age group. If an age group at one club fills up with the local kids then any left overs are allowed to go to the next nearest club with space. I know this could be an administrative nightmare and there will be those that will manipulate the policy, however, strong deterrents could be put in place.

      I honestly believe a strong club set up leads to a stronger international side.

      • Roar Guru

        July 28th 2017 @ 11:49am
        M.O.C. said | July 28th 2017 @ 11:49am | ! Report

        I agree Craig. RU in Australia is handicapped by this unwritten “class” selection criteria. This is not so much the case in NZ and I suspect this is often the difference between the two countries in their respective success internationally. There seem to be plenty of examples in the WBs in which the sons of selectors and favourites of certain clubs and schools all seem to find their way into representative colours despite perhaps not being the best players.

        • Roar Guru

          July 28th 2017 @ 4:46pm
          Ralph said | July 28th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

          Several of the Australian posters to this very site have suggested Kiwi’s have no class at all.

          • Roar Guru

            July 28th 2017 @ 5:27pm
            M.O.C. said | July 28th 2017 @ 5:27pm | ! Report

            Boom tissssss!

      • Roar Guru

        July 29th 2017 @ 3:35pm
        Cadfael said | July 29th 2017 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

        Agree with you on the “right” clubs. Little appears to being done out in western Sydney. Penrith get flogged nearly every week and Parra aren’t too far behind. Here is where the population numbers are and what does the SRU and ARU do about it? Very little. Rugby is being played in schools there with St Dominics and St Gregorys . They should be promoting the game out there.

        • July 30th 2017 @ 12:38pm
          Marlins Tragic said | July 30th 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

          Don’t know a great deal about Parra, but I can tell you that with Penrith the issues have nothing to do with promotion of the game, it is a large area that has a lot of very successful subbies clubs & the collective talent out there is warehoused within those teams, I read the other day on a Facebook forum that Perinth are seen as a club that caters to Poloynsians, not my statement BTW.

          More needs to be done from within the Penrith collective to make them competitive again.

          Mind you, they gave my team, Manly, a run for their money yesterday 🙁

    • July 28th 2017 @ 10:01am
      John said | July 28th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

      Excellent article – now all that is needed is an organisation chart, a plan for implementation and specifically the people at a senior level who will be tasked with implementation.

    • July 28th 2017 @ 10:16am
      Fast Freddy said | July 28th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      Great Article but still Pie in the sky
      1) Develop a goal – vision
      2) Prepare a plan on how to get there with standard process and best practice – these may come from some kids club rugby coaches and not super rugby hot shots
      3) Action the plan – the crucial bit
      4) Learn from any mistakes and adjust Plan accordingly
      5) Repeat Process

      Look for outliers who can bring new thoughts into Rugby. I did a foundation course with NSW Rugby and when I questioned the instructors on how to setup a scrum , I was frowned on, when I followed up with an email explaining why I taught it a certain way( Props get lower, have 30% more strength, less knee injuries eg acl injuries) , I was still ignored as just a dad! (ignoring fact I am a ASCA Lvl 1 S&C coach, lvl 1 sports trainer, squat more than most professional rugby union players and am over 45)
      But we still teach my method at our local club

      We look for best practice in our own club and reuse it through the junior ranks , just makes sense.

      What clubs in Australia have rugby hints that could add value nationally?

    , ,