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In 2011, the best and worst thing possible happened in Australian rugby. The Queensland Reds claimed the Super Rugby Championship in a Cauldron thriller over the Canterbury Crusaders.
The problem was this sparked a chain of events which triggered the demise of the Super Rugby clubs in Australia, and ushered in the era of New Zealand Super Rugby dominance.
Within a couple of years of the Reds triumph, McKenzie was rewarded with the Wallabies coaching role. Robbie Deans and his team were given the marching orders. Out walks Deans and his coaching staff, in walks McKenzie and his team.
Good news for the Wallabies. Bad news for the Reds.
Unfortunately, Jake White, the World Cup-winning head coach of the 2007 South African team, was overlooked for the Wallabies head coach position. At the time he was a successful Brumbies head coach and had turned the Canberra-based side around. Without a credible path to return to the international coaching ranks, White left the Brumbies.
Bad news for the Brumbies.
Then the worst thing possible happened in Australian Rugby. In 2014, another Australian Super Rugby team took the title.
This time it was the Wartahs, and in claiming the title, Cheika become the first coach to win both a Super Rugby Title (Waratahs) and Heineken Cup (Leinster).
Out walked McKenzie and his first-class coaching staff. In walked the victorious Cheika and his first-class Waratahs coaching outfit.
Good news for the Wallabies. Bad news for the Waratahs.
Cheika, wanting a stronger Wallabies attack, brought in Larkham as attack coach. This meant Larkham had to end his head coaching stint at the Brumbies.
Good news for the Wallabies. Bad news for the Brumbies.
There comes a point when bad news for the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies becomes bad news for the Wallabies.
Unfortunately, we have obliterated not just our head coaches, and the next is a key point, but a lot of the great assistants. Attack coaches. Fitness coaches. Incredible talent has been lost either overseas or from the game all together.
So where are they now?
Ewen McKenzie now works as a Project Manager on a waste to energy project. Ewen McKenzie’s Reds attack coach Jim McKay has just returned to the Reds after several seasons as head coach of the Kobe Steel in Japan’s Top League.
Jake White is now coach of Toyota Verblitz in the Japan Top League.
Robbie Deans is a coach in the Japan Top League, the successful Panasonic Wild Cats.
Michael Cheika and Steven Larkham are the respective current Wallabies coach and assistant coach.
Clearly there is something fundamentally wrong and broken with the Australian system for this coaching void to have happened.
And the ingredients are there for it to occur again.
Every few years in Australia, there are calls for wholesale sackings at the Wallabies. People want the next best shiny thing. Some cite the need to run rugby like a business and then toss in the names of Super Rugby coaches to take their place.
Awesome. The merry go round starts again. More pain for Super Rugby, and in turn the Wallabies.
Surely the goal should be to have a great Wallaby coaching team, and a great Super Rugby coaching teams. The two are intimately linked.
Then there is the what ifs? How many Super Rugby Championships could Australian teams had won if the Waratahs had stuck with Cheika’s team, or the Reds with McKenzie’s team, or the Brumbies with Jake White’s or Larkham’s team.
How would that have translated back to the Wallabies?
What is done is done. Can’t change the past. Can change the future.
The problem is this, coaches, just like players, have a combination of burning ambition to represent the country, a desire for higher paychecks, greater recognition, and some even enjoy the challenge of playing rugby at the highest level. Thus the goal is international rugby.
So how do we convince great coaches to remain in the Australian Super Rugby framework?
The first is opportunity. Super Rugby is not on the international stage. Nor is the Heineken Cup. What about this – two years prior to the Rugby World Cup, hold a Super Rugby Province of Origin World Championship?
Here Super Rugby and Heineken Cup teams would unite in a rugby extravaganza, State of Origin style. Think State of Origin on steroids. So sorry Europe, Will Skelton belongs to the Waratahs.
Rotate tournament hosting rights every four years between the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere powerhouse countries. For southern hemisphere this would mean three pools of ten teams playing in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. The top six teams and two qualifiers play in Quarter Finals and knockout phase of tournament.
The key here is branding. Maybe, just maybe. it is time for a perception change in Australia whereby we seek to raise our Rebels, Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies brands internationally. Every two years Super Rugby is the focus, the following two years the focus is on the World Cup and International teams.
The second is money. Should the Wallabies gig be the top paid rugby coaching gig in Australia? To be honest, I’m not so sure. To safeguard the Wallabies, great Super Rugby coaches with proven records could be compensated accordingly. As they say, money talks, bull-dust walks.
The third thing to correct is the international poachers from France, Japan and other European teams.
The best way to stop this may be the Province of Origin concept to be enforced internationally, with players only able to switch within a country.
It is important also that the NRC, ITM and Japan Top League are somehow aligned to avoid the Japan Top League conflict with Super Rugby and enable all players in these competitions to play for Wallabies and All Blacks.
What do you think of some of these measures to not only retain Australian talent, but to take the final step of integrating international clubs? What other steps could be taken to ensure Super Rugby talent is retained?