When Ewen McKenzie took over from Robbie Deans as Wallabies coach in August last year, he made it crystal clear from the beginning it was ‘his way, or the highway’.
And that’s the way it should be.
But the Wallabies were slow to pick up on the McKenzie way, winning just two of the coach’s first eight internationals, with both wins coming against the Pumas.
The six losses were more telling – three to the All Blacks, two to the Boks and one to England.
Then the McKenzie way clicked, and the Wallabies are unbeaten in their last eight games with seven wins and that draw in Bledisloe 1 last Saturday night.
So Ewen McKenzie’s win rate over 16 internationals is now 56.3 per cent. And while wins against any national side are important, beating the All Blacks and Boks remains not only the criteria, but the most meaningful.
The Wallabies haven’t beaten the All Blacks since August 12, 2011 when the men-in-gold won the Tri-Nations 25-20 at Suncorp under Robbie Deans.
But there have been two draws – 18-all at Suncorp under Deans on October 20, 2012, and last Saturday. Those are the past facts, now to the current situation.
McKenzie has named the same 23 for Eden Park next Saturday night, where the Wallabies haven’t won since 1986.
McKenzie has blamed a “lack of composure” for not winning Bledisloe 1, with no mention of the sloppy passing that stunted momentum on regular occasions, nor the lack of a drop goal attempt in the last 10 minutes when at least half a dozen very genuine opportunities presented themselves.
McKenzie’s fault, or skipper Michael Hooper’s for letting those three-point chances go begging? Sharing the blame would be fair, but not when it comes to selection, that’s McKenzie’s office.
You would think McKenzie would tread the same path as Waratahs coach Michael Cheika, whose highway was Nick Phipps (9), Bernard Foley (10), Kurtley Beale (12), Adam Ashley-Cooper (13) and Israel Folau (15).
That’s where the good work of the Waratahs forwards throughout the season were turned into points, and more importantly tries, to top the Super Rugby stats and win their first Super title at their 19th attempt.
In their 16 games, the Waratahs won 12, including beating the Hurricanes 39-30 at home, the two-time defending champion Chiefs 33-17 away, the Highlanders 44-10 at home and the seven-times Super champion Crusaders 33-32 in the final at home.
The only loss to a New Zealand franchise all season was to the Blues 21-13 away, and as for the South Africans, beat the Bulls 19-12 at home, Stormers 22-11 away and the Lions 41-13 at home, with the only loss to the Sharks 32-10 away.
Those are bullet-proof stats that Cheika’s backline was better selected than McKenzie’s with the same players available. Unfortunately for Wallabies fans, McKenzie and Cheika aren’t on the same highway.
Next Saturday night will give a clearer indication as to which highway is better for the men-in-gold.
- David Lord, Roar