Ewen McKenzie: My 'six-team approach' to Wallabies
August 11, 2014
Ewen McKenzie has taken a unique "six-team approach" to the development of the Wallabies for the Rugby Championship, the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and beyond.
McKenzie has been in charge of the Wallabies for little more than 12 months, overseeing a vast improvement in performance on and off the field to the point that fans are flocking back to support the golden jumper that had, perhaps, become a little tarnished. The Wallabies, if not rugby itself, was on the nose in Australia, a soft target for folk with or without an agenda. But the Wallabies now are looking to play an entertaining brand of football - ball in hand, the "Australian way" as McKenzie labels it - and they are doing so with buy-in from all five of Australia's Super Rugby franchises.
"I don't treat the Wallabies as intellectually superior or indifferent," McKenzie told ESPN. "We're using the same players in a different window. That's my philosophy. A six-team approach. Why wouldn't I collaborate with the provincial coaches to get the best out of players across the 12-months season."
And therein lies a key difference between McKenzie his predecessors with the Wallabies, and perhaps a key reason for Australia's improved fortunes, as he views the Test team and the franchises essentially as a single entity. He doesn't necessarily want a say in the workings and game plans of the Super Rugby franchises, but he does want to understand them in order to make the Wallabies run and play more smoothly and efficiently.
Australian rugby fans have re-connected with the Wallabies under Ewen McKenzie © Getty Images
"I spent time particularly in the pre-season talking to them, and spent time during the season going watching training and having conversations," McKenzie said. "I've got a good relationship with all of the coaches; I can ring them and we talk about things. We don't live in each other's pockets, but I don't tell them what to do. I respect their programs. They all do it differently. They've all got a different playing approach, they' got different things happening around their programs. All I want to do is understand it, not judge it.
"We work with them. We trust them to do the best things for the players. We all want the players to play their best football, and we work together on that, not in competition. I'd like to think that's one of the significant things that's happened in the last period of time as we've worked really well together.
McKenzie understands "there's always going to be moments of conflict and competing interest" - perhaps such as his selection of Matt Toomua as an inside centre and Kurtley Beale as a fly-half, compared with the pair playing respectively at No.10 and No.12 in Super Rugby - but that reflects the different game plans in use and "fundamentally I've allowed the Super teams to have their window and their time in the sun, and we get our time now".
"It's quite clear where the boundaries of that are; there's no overlap, and that's worked well."
Listen to the full, frank and wide-ranging interview with Ewen McKenzie on ESPNscrum from Tuesday, August 12, to get an insight into the Wallabies coach's thoughts and methods ahead of the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney on Saturday, August 16.
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