‘How do I get out of Australian rugby?’: Wallaby’s anguish after year from hell – and why there are ‘no excuses’ for Rebels
Andrew Kellaway is excited for the year ahead, but it wasn’t long ago that he was considering the abort button following last year’s World Cup disaster.
“To be honest, it broke me a bit towards the end there,” Kellaway tells The Roar. “A couple of weeks after that [the World Cup], I was like, ‘how do I get out of here? How do I get out of Australian rugby?’”
Off the back of last season’s year from hell, which saw the Wallabies miss the World Cup knockout stage for the first time and resulted in a complete coaching cleanout, Kellaway doesn’t want to cover old ground and reflect on the past.
But, as it so happens, burying the past isn’t necessarily an easy thing.
“Whirlwind is one word for it,” he says. “To call a spade a spade, it was just a bad year.
“I’ve thought pretty long, pretty hard about how to answer this question if I was asked and, to be totally honest, I don’t want to waste any more time or energy on talking about Eddie [Jones] and all that stuff.
“I think there’s no value even talking about that anymore. We all saw what we saw.
“We’re mature enough to join the dots there and work out there was probably a very, very vast minority that had a good experience there, so I’ll leave it at that.”
And yet, leaving a subject untouched is extremely difficult because the game’s problems and its future are so closely linked.
For instance, it’s only now that Kellaway is feeling fresh to attack the year.
“I don’t want to touch on the World Cup too much, but the wash-up from that was rough and 12 weeks was almost not enough to really unwind from that,” he said.
“I think most of the group would be feeling that.
“It’s the sport business, we’ve got to get on with it. But I am starting to feel a bit more refreshed, a little bit more energised around that sort of stuff.”
Additionally, there are lessons to learn from last season’s year from hell.
“As far as the rugby is concerned, I would hope we’ve now learned what not to do,” Kellaway said.
Kellaway doesn’t go into what those lessons are, but it’s clear that rolling the coach mere months out from the World Cup, one who had the backing of the team, and not having a clear oversight over the planning and direction of the team are obvious starting points.
But given the struggles of the national and provincial teams over the past decade, it’s also apparent that Australian rugby’s problems extend far beyond who is coaching the Wallabies.
“I’ve been in the room for a couple of conversations over the last four or five months in my capacity as a board director at RUPA and with the Wallabies leadership stuff and it sounds like [Rugby Australia CEO] Phil [Waugh] is aware of everything that’s gone on and, obviously, he’s inherited most of it,” Kellaway said.
“I would say the first step to righting the ship is knowing where it went wrong and he’s certainly aware of that.
“I’m optimistic about that and about Phil’s tenure.”
Those learnings extend to the Rebels, whose future very much depends on starting to find success on the field.
Kellaway doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the Rebels, who he joined in 2020 to kick-start his second coming in Australian rugby.
“For us now, we have no excuses,” Kellaway said. “We’ve got a roster that should be competing every week.
“Even before I was in Melbourne, there’s always been an excuse, depth or injuries or whatever and that’s fair enough, but there is no excuse this year and we’re here to compete and anything short of that will be a failure as far as we’re concerned.”
Indeed, the Rebels have made changes on and off the field.
After struggling with their kick exit last year, the Rebels have beefed up their coaching ranks by bringing in Rob Taylor to oversee their player pathways and kick strategy.
Brad Harris, who spent the best part of a decade with Georgia and Fiji’s various programs, has also returned to Australia to take over the Rebels’ defence.
Kellaway says their additions are “a massive step in the right direction for us.”
On the field, too, the Rebels have recruited well by luring Wallabies and former Reds teammates Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Filipo Daugunu. Internationals Jack Maunder (halfback) and Matt Proctor (centre) have also arrived at the Stockade.
Those additions, particularly the arrival of Salakaia-Loto after a season in the English Premiership playing alongside former England captain Courtney Lawes, have led to Kellaway believing the Rebels are heading in the right direction.
“They’re everywhere. The little changes are everywhere,” he says.
“I think the big ones that stick out for me are some of the new guys that have come in.
“You’ve got a guy like Lukhan, who has come in from Northampton and before that the Reds, and Lukhan and I played at the Waratahs together and through the under 20s and the change in him as a bloke and how he’s been able to use his experience to influence the rest of the group has been really fantastic.
“He’s a big personality, he wears his heart on his sleeve and he really drives standards and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks.
“To be frank, I think that’s something that’s lacking across Australian rugby is we don’t have a lot of guys who are prepared to stand up and say what they think and poke each other in the chest.
“Being happy to turn up and be mates with everyone is great, but it’s not good enough anymore.”
He’s not the only one either, with Maunder, the 26-year-old English halfback who was capped once by Jones in 2017, also bringing a new edge to the Rebels after the best part of a decade in the Premiership with Exeter.
“He brings real grit, a real high performance mentality from a really successful environment,” Kellaway said.
It’s not just been a big 12 months on the field for Kellaway, but off it too.
The Wallabies’ terrible result at the World Cup meant he was home to welcome his first child into the world.
Most players say being a parent changes the way they approach the game.
For Kellaway, he’s hoping he discovers how to become more patient and tolerant as a father.
“As a competitive person, you probably put patience and tolerance at the back of the back of the queue as far as attributes go,” he says. “I don’t know how it will change me, but I certainly hope that I get a strong work out of the patience muscle.”
Patience and tolerance. Characteristics Australian rugby could perhaps use as the Wallabies welcome a new coach into the fold.