Rod Macqueen: The unintended man behind the English curtain

Conor Wilson Roar Rookie

By Conor Wilson, Conor Wilson is a Roar Rookie

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    With teams that have been at the forefront of their game, we can always go back and see a moment, a point in time where that team did something.

    Introduced something to their team. Made a change. However, this was never to be subtle.

    This change was so pioneering, so radical for its time, that it set the team affected by it down a path that led to success. A successive environment, a successive win record. General success.

    There are probably a number of key moments throughout professional sport where this has happened; however, two come to mind immediately.

    Johan Cruyff joining Barcelona as their manager in 1988.

    Graham Henry signing for the All Blacks in 2003.

    Both of these moments started their teams down routes of such long-term success, that for me, it has left a profound and cultural dedication to their principles long after their association ended.

    I maintain that Joe Schmidt and his ethos that has gone top down into the Irish provinces may also lead to long-term success for Ireland. But the time is still yet too short.

    Graham Henry and his espousal of Total Rugby, as well as the structures and processes he has put in place, have led to the All Blacks being at No.1 since 2009. As well as men who knew his methods, taking over the helm once he left. Ensuring success down the line.

    Johan Cruyff joined Barcelona, and immediately replicated his innovative and exciting views on Total Football throughout every one of Barcelona’s teams. So when a player within the grade structures was moved up, his transition was easier to manage.

    This, on top of his views, and coaching philosophies that have been adopted worldwide. The result is that Barca is the premier football team in the World.

    England too, have had their moment. But this one crosses clubs, countries and continents. It goes back decades. People say that Eddie Jones is the reason for England’s new revival. And indeed he is.

    However, the original moment, the moment where England and their attacking ethos under Jones collided was when a certain Rod Macqueen was named the ACT Brumbies coach for the inaugural Super 12 Rugby season. That was way back at the beginning of the professional era.

    Macqueen’s vision was built on a strong culture on and off the field. He took lessons learnt from his successful business ventures into the new world of rugby. He took the dregs of the Australian conferences, players deemed not good enough for professional rugby, and set to work.

    A year later, by working smart, and espousing the pre-cursor to the rugby we see with England, seven Brumbies were being selected in the Wallaby Squad. Two years later, Macqueen was leading the Wallabies to a comprehensive victory at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

    Macqueen, the Brumbies, and the Protege
    Macqueen’s venture was fairly unrealistic at the time. What he wanted, was a fast-paced, continuous multi-phase game where the game was played at such speed, that the attack would again be on the move before the defence had even reset.

    Hit and run rugby, pressuring the opposition so much, that once a gap had been identified using his grid system, the Brumbies would target it mercilessly. An endless number of variations to confuse defences, and constant, constant adaptation on a near-weekly basis.

    Based on a high degree of physical and mental fitness, combined with highly developed skillsets under pressure.

    Sound familiar?

    This was lightyears away from the rugby of the time. Where territory and points in five phases and under or kicking away possession was the norm. This was a pioneering approach, and thankfully.

    Macqueen did not want the philosophy to be shunted aside and abandoned; as it had in other rugby clubs he had previously worked with like Warringah and the Waratahs. As such, Macqueen brought a certain Randwick coach into the fold, teaching his ways and methods, so when Macqueen left for the Wallabies, the Brumbies philosophy would continue.

    Three years later, this coach won the Super 12 title with the Brumbies and was brought into the Wallabies set up to take over when Macqueen left after the Lions tour.

    Who was this coach you say? A man by the name of Eddie Jones.

    Eddie Jones

    (Photo: AFP)

    The two-man pod attacking game plan that Jones is now espousing, the ‘ruck and run’ rugby, is a direct descendant of the same rugby Macqueen produced in his debut year with the Brumbies.

    It is an in their face, flat relentless attack, targeted to strike the weak points on the field. Jones’ Two Prong pattern, is a modern play on this. It is designed to take advantage of the new ruck laws.

    A way of maintaining numbers in attack and moving the ball from the ruck before it can even be contested. Tiring and stressing the defence. This is where Jones is moving his team. Why he won’t accept anyone other than Glen Ella as his coach attack. Ella knows this brand of rugby having coached it with Jones at the Wallabies.

    Jones signing on until 2021 is another classic Macqueen era move. Macqueen bought Jones in before he left, wanting to hand over the reigns while Jones was under his stewardship so his philosophies would live on. Much like Macqueen, Jones is doing the same for the next successor of England rugby.

    Whether the public knows it or not, Macqueen’s hands and philosophies are all over this England team. If they are continually developed and the minds keep adapting like Jones has it could be a very, very bright future for English rugby.

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • Roar Guru

      February 8th 2018 @ 7:05am
      Kia Kaha said | February 8th 2018 @ 7:05am | ! Report

      Thanks, Conor. A compelling piece. Eddie is Rod Macqueen incarnate. Be afraid!

    • February 8th 2018 @ 9:05am
      sheek said | February 8th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      I don’t know about this.

      Eddie Jones was always determined to be his own man, not a clone of MacQueen. This ultimately cost him his Wallaby coaching position. He deviated too much, & wrongly.

      Firstly, MacQueen’s continual recycling of possession at high speed wasn’t going to be successful without a top quality flyhalf.

      The move of Larkham from fullback to flyhallf was a masterstroke. However, Jones as Brumbies coach resisted the move at super rugby level in 1998, not acceeding to it until the following year.

      In 2000, the Brumbies lost a home final to the Crusaders they should have won. They refused to change their tactics one iota, making it soooo easy for Crusaders to read Brumbies in defence.

      Here Jones deviated from MacQueen in two ways. One, MacQueen still understood the vital importance of a powerful scrum. Jones didn’t & lost the Wallabies coaching position. Under Jones, the scrum fell away alarming.

      Two, MacQueen understood that within the rigid framework, there was still room for individual flair. Jones wanted his players to be clones & ultimately lost the Wallabies coaching position. The play became rote, unimaginative, lacking flair & enterprise.

      The good thing about Jones, the very good thing, is that he has learnt from past mistakes, & is today as close to the master coach as you could wish for.

      But it wasn’t always so.

      • February 8th 2018 @ 11:41am
        Fionn said | February 8th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        Good comment, Sheek.

      • February 8th 2018 @ 12:47pm
        Damo said | February 8th 2018 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

        “…Highly developed skillsets under pressure…, strong mental fitness…,endless number of variations to confuse defences…,attack would again be on the move before the defence had even reset…, a top quality fly half (your add in Sheek). Sounds like a summary of what hasn’t been part of the Wallabies execution in the past couple of seasons.

    • February 8th 2018 @ 10:34am
      Who said | February 8th 2018 @ 10:34am | ! Report

      We may quibble at points (I think Sheek’s right about Jones wanting to apply his own standards, but also failing – his inflexibility in the past has been an issue, with the old story about a centre scoring a try and Eddie supposedly being grumpy that the ball wasn’t given to the winger), but this is a very relevant article. Not because Eddie is exactly Rod, but because of the mentoring that happened.

      Macqueen had another apprentice, a level down, the way that Anakin Skywalker was taken on by Qui-Gon Jinn (or however you write it – I really hate that I’m referencing a movie franchise that I don’t enjoy). Macqueen wasn’t around for all his development, but he was put on the path by Macqueen, given Macqueen coached him at the Tahs, then at the Brums. Then he was Eddie’s right hand man for a while, until he took his own head coaching role. That man? Ewen McKenzie…

      It’s interesting to note the complaints about Ewen – things like constantly trying to tweak the game plan for each opponent, etc – aren’t dissimilar to the history with Rod and Ewen. But he understood – as Rod did – that structure is there to create opportunities which intelligent players can then use.

      • February 8th 2018 @ 11:41am
        Fionn said | February 8th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        Another good comment, Who.

        • February 8th 2018 @ 12:06pm
          Who said | February 8th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

          I think that mentoring in coaching is really undervalued… And I think we should be looking at psychological analysis of coaches, too, to see their strengths and weaknesses. Not to pull them apart, but to help them improve. We analyse strengths and weaknesses of players, but there’s opportunity to avoid inbuilt coaching weaknesses and personal biases by highlighting them (internally, in the coaching team, we shouldn’t be having to do this for them on public fora!). This can be partly countered by mentoring in a good system, but why can’t we have both..?

          I don’t know if Eddie’s ever gone and done personal analysis of his own strengths, weaknesses and biases. I do think he’s improved a lot as a coach in the last decade (his rugby smarts were never in question, just his intelligence in how to run a team), but maybe that process could’ve been made less painful and faster by personal analysis?

          So, if we look at that, who’s been mentoring our coaches? Who mentored Cheika? I genuinely don’t know (especially given he was a player-coach).
          McKellar’s been under Fisher and Larkham.
          Wessels was under White.
          Gibson was under Blackadder – a man who led the Crusaders for 8 of the last 10 seasons, the 8 seasons where they didn’t win a title, in spite of consistently having a strong team. And Blackadder sacked him…
          Thorn’s played under some truly great coaches, but his coaching career is pretty well non-existent (playing under someone is somewhat different to learning to coach from behind them as an assistant), and I don’t see him having external business/managerial history as Macqueen did…

          It’s also interesting to note Nick Bishop’s comments in his article this week about Henry needing to become more consultative in 2004. So, he basically went to the Macqueen model – not player power, but empowered players, players who understand the game plan, the ‘why’ behind the game plan, and who have freedom to modify the game plan in order to achieve the objectives of the game plan (I don’t mean score points, I mean key components, which, against Australia, might be ‘isolate Foley and Beale in defence’. Which then creates greater opportunities). But with the players ultimately accountable to the coach (Henry, Macqueen) for their performance…
          But that sort coaching, you’ve got to be very secure, you’ve got to trust the people around you, and it’s not necessarily natural in the psychology of coaches. Coaches don’t always trust their assistants (Robbie Deans never seemed to trust his assistants) – those trust issues might need to be identified externally. It’s not a psychological problem, but it’s a trait that can be identified by analysis. Because if a coach can’t trust the assistant, the coach should sack them and grab an assistant that can be trusted, trust as being more knowledgeable in the specifics of their role than the head coach is.

          • February 8th 2018 @ 12:23pm
            Fionn said | February 8th 2018 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

            Yeah Deans’ biography wasn’t overly positive about his assistants, in regards to the Wallabies anyway.

            I have high hopes for McKellar. I hope that the Brumbies did a good job in recruiting and that he turns out to be a future very good coach who has been mentored well, rather than a dud political hiring.

            • February 9th 2018 @ 4:20pm
              AlisterS said | February 9th 2018 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

              I think the brumbies have recruited excellently. The Rebels have more names but the Brumbies have filled key gaps with quality – with the possible exception of fly half though I think leilifano will help fill that gap if not directly then by assisting the actual 10 with his experience at 10 and taking off pressure

    • February 8th 2018 @ 1:37pm
      Perthstayer said | February 8th 2018 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

      Excellent article.

      By isolating the reasons behind EJ’s current success you have provided the framework to formulate ways of defending his style. A task more coaches should take on, as NZ did in last RWC final.

      Too many still say “don’t worry, Jones will fail as he did before”. It is the comment of those bereft of ideas and reliant only on hope.

      • February 8th 2018 @ 11:59pm
        Goatee said | February 8th 2018 @ 11:59pm | ! Report

        @ Perthstayer – ?


    • February 8th 2018 @ 8:38pm
      CJ said | February 8th 2018 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

      Rod McQueen (IMO), is more than just a great rugby coach; with his success against the ABs, he deserves a place with the likes of Harry Hopman, Don Talbot, Wayne Bennett and John Buchanan as icons of Australian coaching.

    • February 8th 2018 @ 9:23pm
      Mmmmm..k said | February 8th 2018 @ 9:23pm | ! Report

      G.Henry was not the key to NZ success.
      The team was already a team who won 80% and over.
      The team was the reason and Mitchell took them from 70% to 82% and gets no credit whatsoever.
      Henry gets a team already winning 86% from Mitchell’s last year and doesn’t improve it at all and gets all the credit.
      Makes no sense.

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