Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: McKenzie spark set to ignite renewed passion in Wallabies

Ewen McKenzie has lifted hopes for the Wallabies. Photo / Getty Images
Ewen McKenzie has lifted hopes for the Wallabies. Photo / Getty Images

Coaches are likeable, personable or a similar description when they take office.

Certainly in Australia, where rugby struggles for a strong profile in the battle of the broadcasting ratings. A new era gets the horns and hoopla treatment from the administrators and the fourth estate falls into line.

After a while the enchantment dims and the record flattens off to the 58 per cent winning average which followed the last three coaches, Eddie Jones, John Connolly and Robbie Deans since 2001.

The plain work against the Lions has been replaced by a buoyancy about the start of Ewen McKenzie's regime. It is part of the Australian sporting psyche.

As soon as they sense some change to any sporting malaise, history is rubbed out and the new horizons stack up.

McKenzie's ascension as top dog to replace Dingo Deans has brought that balmy affection. People this side of the Tasman might lift an eyebrow and deliver a "we'll see how they go this Saturday" kind of look.

But the work of the Brumbies through to the Super 15 final and dovetailing their ethic to the best of the Reds and Waratahs' sting, has raised the rugby anticipation in the Sunburnt Country.

Lions coach Warren Gatland acknowledged the physical challenge the Wallabies carried in their test series against the visitors.

And while he missed out on the ARU vote, Jake White likes the chances of McKenzie's mob.

"I sense the Aussies will have a nice recipe," he told the Herald.

"The forwards have been better and I've no doubt that all five packs in Australia have been a lot more competitive this season than before.

"I think the pressure is much more on the All Blacks. There is a stack more excitement among the Wallabies now and it is an exciting time for the country."

White believes the pressures on the Wallabies and All Blacks have evened out more.

When Steve Hansen's contract was extended in April, it meant his focus had altered from a four-year to a two-year campaign towards the next World Cup, just the same schedule which faced McKenzie.

The clean sweep against France was an impressive June results chart for the All Blacks but White wondered about age starting to bite into their ranks.

"I do sense the pressure will be on the All Blacks now and only because there is no way those guys can continue physically," he said. "They have a senior group of players with McCaw, Carter, Smith and Co and they are not going to be able to play every test between now and the World Cup. Some of them will fall over before that tournament and in some positions they do not have any backup."

White spoke about the new Wallaby era. There would be a renewed energy in the squad and he hoped a change in discipline.

A new coach usually meant a new energy and vigour. The Wallabies had a new excitement and environment with its positive spinoffs.

"Then the All Blacks - and I'm not just saying this - the pressure will be on them because they are consistently No1, they are World Cup champions, and they have to make change," he said.

"The challenge for Steve Hansen is whether he gets the balance right. How does he manage that, when does he do it, is the team going to be strong enough, will the combinations gel?

"Who does he change against and when and how does he fare with injuries around the players he wants to change? That will play a massive part on the way his team looks."

- NZ Herald

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