First, the good news from Phil Kearns for downcast Aussie rugby fans.

Kearns, who won two World Cups, says the Wallabies' fortunes will be transformed by Mick Byrne, the skills coach who has returned to Australia after 11 years with the All Blacks.

Now for the bad news. There is light for Aussie rugby, but it is at the end of a very long tunnel.

The former Wallaby captain now TV commentator riles New Zealanders with some of his one-eyed observations.


But he lavished praise on the All Blacks when interviewed by the Herald, while making it clear he thought an Aussie had been central to the All Blacks' success.

"We are eternally grateful that Mick Byrne, who I think has been the architect of a lot of what New Zealand has done, has come back to Australia," Kearns said.

"The All Blacks aren't more physical, or much more physical, than any of the other top five teams.

"But their skill level is incredible...just the pace of the ball movement and accuracy of passing. They have such confidence in their skills.

"There is actually a touch of netball to it, where you pass into space. If the ball is put into the correct spot you can run on to it at pace and if your support lines are right you will beat anyone.

"The Wallabies were put under pressure in attack and defence by the skills of the All Blacks (in Sydney). We're five to 10 years behind that."

Kearns was overflowing in his praise for Byrne, a former Aussie Rules player, who he said had also turned All Blacks like Israel Dagg and Ben Smith into brilliant high ball catchers.

Byrne is now the Australian Rugby Union skills coach, and has joined the Wallaby camp.

"If there were 10 Mick Byrnes around the world teaching every nation how to get those skills I think it would be invaluable to our code generally, not just Australia and New Zealand," said Kearns.

"I know some of the All Black players still ring Mick. He's actually taught them how to pass - he goes right back to the basics of the mechanics.

"You look at the All Blacks like Aaron Smith and they are technically perfect - with every other team in the world you see passes going behind the man."

Kearns said it had been tough to watch Australia's rugby struggles, but he did not want to denigrate modern players who were far better athletes than the footballers of his day.

About the only glimmer of hope he could offer was to recall the six-week Wallaby tour of 1990 when heavy defeats in the first two tests were followed by a triumph at Athletic Park.

But even then, Kearns said the old-style tours offered teams the chance to work on their game in the non-test matches whereas the current team had to sort their problems out in the test arena.

"It has been fairly painful to watch but you can't help but admire the All Blacks' precision and skill - there are no weaknesses in their game," he said.

"It made me laugh to hear Kieran Read talk about a few lapses in execution (in Sydney). I didn't see one. It was a perfect performance from the All Blacks.

"But the Wallaby defence was atrocious. You can't sugar coat 38 missed tackles. I can't see the Wallabies playing that poorly again, although I'm not going to say they will win."
And he said the pressure was on battling captain Stephen Moore.

"He was outstanding at the World Cup but hasn't been his usual self this year," said Kearns.

"They lost their first scrum and five lineouts - that's where your hooker has to take control.

"Every player goes through ups and downs...he has to lead the way this week with a smile on his face and show some grit and determination. But he's got to believe it himself if he's going to convince the rest of the guys."