CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – After two weeks of spectacular fallout from Kurtley Beale’s idiocy, Australia Wallabies Head Coach Ewen McKenzie, has had enough. The carnage that ensued after Beale had accidentally sent deeply offensive text messages to and about Wallabies business manager Di Patson, along with the ensuing fallout were enough to lead to McKenzie’s resignation.
The truth is this was no cut and dried resignation from a coach who was getting poor results. Granted, an argument can be made by particularly short-sighted critics that he deserved it – with only a 50% winning percentage. However, you surely would not sack a coach a year out from a World Cup, would you? So the big question is: Who is to blame for why one of the top three rugby nations in the world does not have a coach one year out from a World Cup?
First and foremost, the team culture has to take a sizable amount of the blame. And I do not mean a coach’s team culture, I mean the culture amongst the players themselves; their professionalism, their attitude towards the game and the way they conduct themselves!
This Wallabies side has, on the whole, been sound under McKenzie. He rooted out most of the bad influence by stewarding the departure of James O’Connor, Quade Cooper‘s rehabilitation and including calming figureheads like Michael Hooper and Bernard Foley. And yet that left Beale, one of the ‘Generation Y,’ still in the mix… a man with a chequered history at best. Remember, Beale is the bloke that told ARU Chief Bill Pulver where he could sit on the team bus last year.
It is typical that the last of ‘Gen Y’ ended up being the undoing of McKenzie. The fact that the Wallabies players themselves have not sorted out their own problems in-house says a lot for the lack of team culture and team togetherness within the camp. If one fails, we all fail does not seem to apply.
There will be claims that my rationale is far too extreme; that I am being blinded by idealism over how things should be achieved and not being realistic. However, one only has to look at Josh Lewsey and Danny Cipriani’s little bust-up at London Wasps, if you would like a famous example of player power keeping players in check.
Bill Pulver, Chief Executive of the ARU, has been noticeably missing with his messages of support for McKenzie. Again the logic is stark, you may not like him, but can you replace him a year before a World Cup and genuinely expect to do well? Pulver timidly whispered that he supported McKenzie until after the RWC, but his voice was not loud nor convincing enough. He was instead happy to blame the media, the team and everybody in between. But never himself. Under Pulver, the ARU is facing financial ruin, and two coaches have been sacked as a result of shocking team culture. Yet, Pulver the overseer still stands in his position. For the sake of unity, he had to give serious consideration to tearing up Beale’s contract immediately and stand by McKenzie, albeit posthumously.
But now for the true Machiavellian institution of this sad story. As is so often the case in this age we live in, the media is the only guaranteed villain of this piece. The vicious character assassination that followed, hot on the heels of the Beale inquiry, is something that truly does put to shame anybody who is in high level journalism. After Patson resigned, McKenzie was asked if he was having an affair with her. This provoked outrage and a dead-bat denial by McKenzie… and rightly so. Even if McKenzie had been having an affair, it had nothing to do with Beale sending offensive text messages. To make matters worse, the insinuation and impingement on McKenzie’s honour set tongues wagging, taking the focus off Beale and placing McKenzie squarely in the firing line… yet another injustice. Not one of the major news outlets in Australia realized the carnage that could occur if McKenzie walked just a year away from the World Cup. Not one supported him. They were far too busy enjoying him squirm, never realizing he would resign, not thinking it was even possible. Well, ha ha ha to the Australian media; you deserve this one. Now enjoy the feeling of desolation as your rugby team heads into a November Test period rudderless and in turmoil.
And now to the Honourable Mention in this piece... A man who should know better, a man who has been where McKenzie has been – in the hot seat of Australian rugby. Stand and take a bow Eddie Jones, well done for backing the current Australian head coach one year before the World Cup. Well done for not suggesting somebody else should take over just one short year before a World Cup. If only that was the case. Instead, Jones publicly stated that his old chum Jake White, freshly sacked from the Sharks due to being unpopular with the players, along with White’s headmaster style of coaching, would be the perfect person to take over from McKenzie. And this was while McKenzie was still in the job!
There’s a truly nasty undertone to this element of McKenzie’s sacking. Did Jake White call his old pal Eddie and ask if he could stick his oar into the toxic Australian waters and float his name as a possible replacement? We can’t be certain. What is for certain, though, is that if an ex–head coach of a national team comes out and publicly condemns a current coach, it is going to put a considerable amount of doubt that coach’s ability. The outrageous lack of professionalism and patriotism by Jones is deplorable and I am staggered that more has not been made of it. Indeed, if Quade Cooper can be sacked for calling his team environment ‘toxic,’ then surely Eddie Jones deserves to be publicly vilified by an Australian press that seem to have a particular affinity of pulling villains out of hats!
It is with a degree of amusement that I now read about Michael Cheika rightly being the front-runner for the Wallabies job. It was, after all, Cheika who just won the Super 15 with a rejuvenated Waratahs side, whilst White seemed content to walk out of the Brumbies job when a better option came along for him. No doubt this disloyalty will be remembered during the application process.
Anyway, whomever the culprit is, they have been impressively short-sighted. Just under a year before a World Cup and Australia have no head coach, a November series fast approaching and a RWC Group that is one of the most difficult in history. Frankly, I am not sure I sympathize with any of them. The only person I sympathize with just got unceremoniously shoved out the back door by everybody who should have supported him.