COMMENT: Rugby Australia given wake-up call by All Blacks … AGAIN
Not that they needed it, but Rugby Australia got another wake-up call earlier this week.
As Rugby Australia crawls toward finding their next Wallabies coach, the All Blacks hit the ground running with a pre-season camp led by new coach Scott Robertson and his brilliantly assembled coaching staff.
After being asked to stay away from the All Blacks during last year’s run to the World Cup final by his predecessor Ian Foster, the precious two-day camp in Auckland gave Robertson an early chance to run his eyes over his troops and develop working relationships with 22 players.
The camp occurred the best part of nine months after Robertson was unveiled as the next All Blacks coach.
Since then, Robertson, as well as leading the Crusaders to another extraordinary Super Rugby title, has been planning how to not just deal with, but prosper in spite of, the departure of generational talents Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga.
After all, Robertson doesn’t want to become the first coach to lose the Bledisloe Cup since John Mitchell’s All Blacks won the prized piece of silverware off the Wallabies in 2003.
RA, meanwhile, is likely still another six weeks away from naming Eddie Jones’ replacement, let alone assembling a coaching team.
The differences on and off the field between the trans-Tasman rivals wasn’t missed by veteran coach Laurie Fisher, who was a part of Dave Rennie’s Wallabies coaching staff in 2022 before being looked over by Jones in 2023.
The January slumber comes a year after RA sacked Rennie a week after their first camp of the year.
It meant the training camp on the Gold Coast was ultimately a wasted exercise, with not one of Rennie’s assistant coaches joining Jones’ program.
Once again, the Wallabies find themselves on the back foot in January after Jones’ abrupt departure left RA without a coach.
Although it was prudent of RA to wait until announcing their director of high-performance before finding Jones’ replacement, Peter Horne’s appointment, with David Nucifora as an advisor, took far too long.
Unsurprisingly, the search for Jones’ replacement is similarly taking too long.
The extraordinary lack of investment in Australian coaches means the shortlist can be counted on one hand: Dan McKellar, Stephen Larkham and Michael Cheika.
International candidates can be whittled down to a handful, too, with Joe Schmidt, Ian Foster, Jake White and Ronan O’Gara worthy of consideration. Schmidt, particularly, is well in contention for the role.
RA want to ensure they get the right candidate after eight years of disappointment culminated in World Cup embarrassment last October, but no candidate is without risk.
No foreigner coaching in Australia has left these shores with their stocks higher, while Cheika’s five-year tenure came to an ugly end and McKellar and Larkham are still relatively untested at the international level.
What is known though is before RA knows it, Wales will be on Australian shores.
Warren Gatland’s side might have smashed the Wallabies in Lyon, but that said more about the disaster unfolding under Jones than the Welsh.
Success against Wales before The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup is essential, especially with the British and Irish Lions (who already have their coach set in stone) less than 18 months away.
Indeed, the clock is ticking.
The national playing group might play down the fact they are coach-less, but for a governing body that has known for ten weeks that they need a new coach, RA is taking a relaxed Sunday morning drive approach to the search for Jones’ replacement rather than acting like time is of the essence. It is.
Sponsorships need to be found, player contracts signed and tickets at Super Rugby matches sold, but without a national coach that task is even more difficult.
Already Mark Nawaqanitawase has signed with a rival code.
Impressed by Trent Robinson’s manner and vision, he leapt at the chance of signing with the Sydney Roosters.
With the futures of many other players in the balance, including Jordan Petaia and Noah Lolesio, the game’s stars – and future ones – want clarity.