Four years ago World Cup-winner Dan Herbert broke his silence and put out an impassioned plea to move away from the “immediate outrage”.
After years of watching coach after coach get sacked, he voiced his two cents by saying the “blame” for the Wallabies’ struggles needed to move away from one person.
“The frustration for me is more systemic than it is of a performance on a particular day or night, or even across a period of time,” Herbert told foxsports.com.au in August 2018.
“Over the 16 years that we’ve lost the Bledisloe Cup, we’ve had some of the world’s best coaches in Eddie Jones, John Connolly, Robbie Deans, Ewen McKenzie — are we saying that those guys can’t coach?
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“You’ve got some of the top shelf coaches of any country, of any time, that have won championships all over the place, up north, down south.
“At what stage do we say ‘you know what, it’s not actually about an individual, it might be the system that we force them to work within?”
Fast-forward four years and the Bledisloe Cup still eludes the Wallabies, with the All Blacks building on their great escape in Melbourne to smash their trans-Tasman rivals 40-14 at Eden Park on Saturday night.
The loss left Dave Rennie with an unflattering 37.9 per cent win record from 29 Tests – well short of McKenzie and Cheika’s 50 per cent winning record.
Yet, Rennie has been backed through to the World Cup, with Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan saying he will lead the Wallabies through to next year’s showpiece event.
McLennan’s backing, on the eve of the Bledisloe opener, supports Herbert’s stance from four years ago.
Except, now, Herbert is on the RA board, having been appointed as a director who sits on the high performance committee since mid-2020.
The appointment goes some way in explaining why there is no knee jerk reaction surrounding Rennie’s immediate future.
McLennan, too, is an administrator that believes when someone is appointed to a role they should see it through.
The public and private backing should fill Rennie with confidence because for the Wallabies to stand a chance at next year’s World Cup, they need someone with a plan, a clear sense of direction and selection nous.
At present, the Wallabies have slumped to ninth on the World Rugby rankings.
That is ugly reading for anyone, including McLennan and Herbert, and part explains the Wallabies’ struggles but also the competitive nature of international rugby.
It must also be spelled out that the Wallabies have had victories over South Africa, Argentina, England over the past three months, as well as an almighty comeback against the All Blacks. It is not all doom and gloom.
The Wallabies have been hit harder than most by injuries, with the loss of Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Taniela Tupou, among others, including the disruptive nature of Michael Hooper’s withdrawal, absences that would affect most international teams.
While Rennie can’t change the landscape of rugby in Australia, he can have a short-term role to play by seeing the Wallabies make steady improvements on the Spring Tour – a tour that shapes as a pivotal moment ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Indeed, Cheika lost three of his opening four Tests in charge on the corresponding tour in 2014 before their run to the World Cup final a year later.
Turnarounds are possible.
Rennie said he was “excited” by the tour while his acting captain James Slipper said he was “confident” they could turn their fortunes around.
“Oh, there’s plenty of hope,” he said.
“The confidence is in the group, definitely. And the staff members.
“I guess the beauty of the last three years is we’ve been able to blood quite a few Wallabies. And they’ll just continue to grow.
“But I think our biggest aspect we need to improve on is consistency.
“We manage to put in a good performance and then back it up with a poor one. We do that regularly.
“That’s probably something we need to really work on because you can’t do that at a World Cup.
“But the bottom line is we’re confident. We’ve just got to build some momentum and keep getting better.”
Rennie needs a clarity of mind during the Spring Tour.
He does not need to reinvent the wheel, but he needs a sense of boldness that goes beyond the training paddock.
Rennie likes to reward “training form” but judging selection on that basis alone can be troublesome.
Few players, despite the notion of “Test match Tuesdays”, go into contact as heavy or are as explosive in defensive lines.
It means some shine more than others.
This brings us to Suliasi Vunivalu, who reportedly is a poor trainer.
Yet, what he could offer on the right-wing, something he showed during his limited Super Rugby matches because of injury, has the potential to be world class.
The sight of him bumping away New Zealanders in Super Rugby, as well as scoring tries and lifting the Queensland Reds, who faded badly in the final two months this season, should be enough for Rennie to bite the bullet and let his purring ex-NRL star go.
Nick Frost is another whose sky is the limit.
He is a man mountain and someone whose athletic ability is second to none in any of the Wallabies’ second-rowers.
He is another who needs more minutes.
Reds halfback Tate McDermott is a winner, and the Wallabies need as many of those as possible and a position, either as a starter or replacement, needs to be found for him.
As for the captaincy, with Samu Kerevi injured, the Wallabies need to widen the scope and find more leaders.
Slipper is a workman, a brilliant man for others to get in behind, but he is the biggest culprit when it comes to giving penalties away and Angus Bell, despite his struggles at scrum time in his return from a six-week injury, will challenge him to start.
Allan Alaalatoa should be considered to take over the Wallabies.
He is a natural leader, someone who does a fine job at Super Rugby level, and for the time being, has it over Taniela Tupou, whose explosiveness is being preferred off the bench.
Given the leaders around him, including Hooper, who is expected to return for the Spring Tour but may give up the captaincy, it will not matter as much if he is replaced early in the second half.
As Slipper said at Eden Park, Australia’s graveyard for more than three decades, all “hope” is not lost ahead of next year’s World Cup.
The Wallabies, however, need someone to demand great accountability though, particularly with their discipline, and that starts with looking in the mirror and asking if what is being served up is good enough.