Rugby
Sam Bruce, ESPN Associate Editor 69d

New Wallabies coach Dave Rennie eager to change Australian rugby's tune

Get ready, Australia. New Wallabies coach Dave Rennie and his guitar are headed Down Under.

Australian rugby fans might be more interested in his coaching ability, and how he will set about improving the fortunes of a team that has won only 10 of its past 24 Tests. But they will also be interested to learn a little bit more about the man who will become only the second foreigner to coach the Wallabies.

"A jukebox for all songs from about 1970 down to about 1940 or something probably," Rennie said with a chuckle when asked about his love of music. "I know as a young fella, I was the youngest in our family, even my brother and sister would drag me along to a party so I could play and everyone else could drink.

"We have a lot of good guitar players in our team here [in Glasgow] so whenever we're away from home, when we go back to the hotel we have quiet drink and the guitar will come out and we'll pass it around; there'd might be as many as nine guitarists in this team.

"Scottish boys love singing ... and I think it's important that you have a win, you have a quiet beer and you celebrate that and spend plenty of time together. So yeah, I'll normally strum a couple of songs every second Saturday we're away from home."

The presence of Rennie's guitar could well become the yardstick for the Wallabies and, as a result, Australian rugby on the whole, given the code's health Down Under is so intrinsically tied to the national team's fortunes.

Speaking with a group of Australian reporters for the first time since his unveiling as Michael Cheika's replacement, Rennie was saying many of the right things.

He knows he must earn the trust of the Australian rugby public. He knows his team must be able to play in a variety of styles and in a variety of conditions. He's keen to bring on the Australia's generation next and is no mood to tolerate excuses. And he knows the Australian rugby public will want success immediately something Rennie craves too.

"We've certainly got to have a big picture mindset but I agree with you, the Australian public expect results and they'll probably expect it immediately," Rennie told the conference call Thursday morning. "And I don't want to give the players any excuses that we're building and all that sort of stuff. So the expectation is that we're going to work really hard and we're going out to win footy.

"I just feel with the usual excuses; you're giving players an out to maybe underperform. So I guess like the Aussie public we'll all be thinking the same thing, we'll be desperate to perform well and keep building on that."

Rennie is big on culture. From his hugely successful stint at the Chiefs - the Hamilton-based Super Rugby outfit won two titles during his reign - to his time with current club Glasgow, the Kiwi has been able to get players to buy into his vision and brought the best out of them as a result.

And he sees a similar correlation from when he first joined the Chiefs, to what lies in wait for him in Australia midway through next year. There will be a significant change in personnel within the Wallabies ranks given the post-World Cup exodus and international retirements, leaving Rennie to oversee the introduction of some talented fresh meat, even if some of it remains extremely raw.

"We've got to have real clarity on the type of game we're going to play and what that looks like, and the detail involved with playing that sort of game," Rennie said when asked about why he was confident he had the skills to make the Wallabies are genuine force again. "And we're going to have to grow people quickly, clearly there's a lot of experience that's left; but that excites me, to be honest.

"When I went to the Chiefs in 2012 there was a heap of very experienced players who left and went offshore; that actually encouraged me to apply for the job because I felt it was going to be easier to change the culture with a chance to bring in some fresh blood and some good young kids. I see it similarly here [in Australia].

"There's no doubt it's going to take a lot of work and I've got a lot of learning to do in regards to the quality of the players that are there and shifts we need to make, but I've got a really strong work ethic and I surround myself with people who are like-minded. And we're talking to some really good people at the moment that I think can make a difference. So that's the planning but I guess we'll know a little bit more in a few months' time."

Rennie said he would prioritise the building of relationships with the Australian Super Rugby franchises among his earliest orders of business, and wants to have his support staff - which he hopes will have a strong Australian flavour - sorted in the not too distant future.

The 55-year-old wouldn't be drawn on whether Michael Hooper would remain Wallabies captain nor any specific players whom he was really excited to start working with. But he did appear to suggest he had little interest in picking players based overseas, be it through the current Giteau Law or any tweaks Rugby Australia makes to its overseas eligibility criteria in the coming months.

"I think the big advantage of having guys playing Super Rugby means that we've got access to them, we've got influence," Rennie said. "Picking players from overseas, maybe it works alright in a World Cup year but it's difficult to have influence.

"And if I compare say; if we're looking at a prop who's playing in France and we want him to be athletic and skillful because of the game we're going to play, as well as scrum well; his French club doesn't care whether he can catch and pass, they just want him to scrummage. So maybe he's not conditioned well; you're going to get him back and in a week try to turn him around to play international footy, which is difficult.

"There'll be the odd case where maybe its possible, but best-case scenario is that we want to try and develop blokes from within Australia and promote them and try and build experience that way."

The other thing Rennie has to build is a relationship with the Australian rugby public. Winning games of rugby is the easiest way to do that, but the New Zealander knows that just as culture is vital behind the closed doors of the Wallabies' inner sanctum, so too is the need for him to immerse himself in Australian rugby's wider circles: The clubs, the schools, the people.

"I'm a rugby nut, I love watching rugby, I love going down to watch club footy and I love watching top high schools play and so on," he said of the role that extends beyond solely the Wallabies. "If we play Friday night here, I'll always pop down to the local club on Saturday because we'll always have two or three of our boys playing in that game. It's a part of it I enjoy.

"I just think you've got to have a really strong connection with the rugby public as well as anything else. Obviously that's going to be difficult for me prior to the international window next year but I'll certainly look forward to doing plenty of that once I'm there [in Australia] full time."

There will be those within the game in Australia who will want Rennie to fail, people who are just waiting to revive the narrative that dogged the Robbie Deans era. It comes with the territory.

Achieve success early doors however - specifically in the form of an overdue Bledisloe Cup series win - then those rumblings will be silenced.

And Wallabies supporters will be lining up to sing Rennie's tune, guitar and all.

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