‘Talent to beat the All Blacks’: Ex-Wallabies coach’s bold call following ‘hash of a year’


They might have failed to make the World Cup knockout stages for the first time, but former Wallabies coach John Connolly believes the fallen rugby nation can respond quickly and, in fact, end their two-decade trans-Tasman drought against the All Blacks in 2024.

Tempers are high and the feeling within the Australian rugby landscape is one of anger and condemnation after the Wallabies’ worst result at a World Cup.

Even before the Wallabies’ World Cup fate was sealed, Eddie Jones’ behaviour both publicly and privately had left many shaking their heads.

The Wallabies’ World Cup pool exit only inflamed the rage towards Jones and the Rugby Australia board, especially chairman Hamish McLennan, who decided to brutally spear Dave Rennie at the start of the year to bring home Jones.

All along, Connolly, who took over from Jones following the 2005 season and led the nation to the 2007 World Cup, had slammed the decision to return to the veteran coach, describing him as a “charlatan” figure.

Eddie Jones looks on during a Wallabies training session, at Stade Roger Baudras on October 07, 2023 in Saint-Etienne. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Now, less than 12 months after the coaching merry-go-round, RA is on the hunt for another coach after Jones not only walked out on the Wallabies but delivered several backhanders on the way out.

Yet, Connolly, who described the past 12 months as a “hash of a year”, doesn’t subscribe to the notion that Australian rugby is dead in the water.

In fact, the former Queensland coach believes there is plenty of talent in the Australian system and went as far as saying the Wallabies can end their Bledisloe Cup hoodoo next year.

“I’m extremely positive about the future of the game in Australia,” Connolly told The Roar.

“We’ll come back from this quickly with the right coach, the right assistants and selectors.

“If we get those measures in place and play the right way, I’d back us to beat the All Blacks next year.

“We’ve got the ability here if we get things right. We really have.”

Sam Cane and Tom Hooper look on following The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 05, 2023 in Dunedin. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Connolly believes the All Blacks are a “team on the way down”, with Scott Robertson tasked with rebuilding the All Blacks after a generation of household names, including Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith, farewelled New Zealand Rugby at the end of the World Cup.

They won’t be helped by the departure of Richie Mo’unga, amongst others, to Japanese Rugby.

The Wallabies, meanwhile, won’t experience the same player drain to Japan or Europe because of slowing markets and the desire to stay at home with a British and Irish Lions series and a home World Cup on the horizon.

That bodes well for the Wallabies, particularly given the youth who were given chances on the world’s biggest stage over the past few months.

Jones took the youngest Wallabies squad to a World Cup since 1991, with the average age being 26.

While the Wallabies’ inexperience played out on the field, they weren’t helped by the mad-scientist approach Jones took to assembling his coaching team.

But Connolly doesn’t think Australian rugby has an issue with talent.

“I think we’ve got some players on the way up,” he said.

Connolly believes Carter Gordon, who struggled on the big stage and was ultimately dropped for their make-or-break Pool C match against Wales, is someone with a big future ahead of him.

“I’ve got real hope for Carter Gordon. I’d take the goal-kicking off him, which helps with the selection of the Brumbies selection of [Ryan] Lonergan],” Connolly said.

“We’ve got the talent that in the right environment, coached the right way, to beat the Blacks – and I’m extremely positive about the future of the game in Australia.

“We’ve got to put it in some balance where international rugby is really strong.

“I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom, but it’s a matter of getting the right coach and selectors and working with the states.”

Former Wallabies coach John Connolly believes Australian rugby can make a huge splash in 2024. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

He is also encouraged by the current crop of coaches leading Australia’s Super Rugby franchises.

“I like what [Darren] Coleman’s doing, I like his manner,” Connolly said.

“The Brumbies will be the Brumbies and they’ll be competitive under Steve Larkham.

“I’ve got high hopes for Les Kiss.

“I want more from the Rebels. They ran teams close last season, but I want to see better results out of them.

“They’ve all got squads that I think have players on the way up, which is really good for Australian rugby. “

For the Wallabies to get back on track though, Connolly said the next national coach needed to stop changing the team every “five minutes”.

“We’ve moved all over the place, haven’t we?” Connolly said.

“We’ve changed the team every second week. It seems to be a badge of honour.

“Cheik [Michael Cheika] did it, [Dave] Rennie couldn’t settle on anyone and Eddie was a disaster. Success doesn’t run like that.

“Great teams have a moment in the sun where continuity of the same team succeeds. [Rod] Macqueen’s team had a tonne of experience, [Clive] Woodward’s team in 2003. We’ve changed our team every five minutes.

“Sometimes when you’ve got multiple Test matches back-to-back you may change it, but generally you pick your best team every week because continuity is important.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.