MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Former schoolteacher Dave Rennie has a track record of guiding rugby teams to championships and glory but he will need to get used to taking instruction when he starts work as Wallabies coach in mid-2020.
Tasked on Wednesday with leading Australia to the 2023 World Cup, Rennie will report to Director of Rugby Scott Johnson, who will have a heavy hand in appointing the 55-year-old’s staff and his players as a selector.
Johnson and the selection panel were foisted upon Rennie’s predecessor Michael Cheika at the end of a disastrous 2018, when the Wallabies won only four of their 13 tests in their worst season in decades.
For Cheika, who had been accustomed to complete autonomy, it was a humbling arrangement and instantly soured his relationship with Rugby Australia and the body’s CEO Raelene Castle.
By appointing a New Zealander, RA have ignored calls from Cheika and a slew of pundits and former players for the next Wallabies coach to be homegrown.
Johnson, however, has spelled out the limits of RA’s cosmopolitan outlook, saying Rennie’s staff should have an “Australian flavour”.
“We’re in dialogue about that,” Johnson, who was Scotland’s director of rugby before taking up the RA role in March, told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“The next cycle we need to have genuine contenders for this position coming through our system.”
Rennie may have his own ideas about who he wants to work with, and they will be given full consideration — so long as they accord with RA’s views.
Johnson has all but anointed Scott Wisemantel, currently England’s attack coach, and another Australian in Matt Taylor, the Scotland defence coach, as Rennie’s assistants.
“Everyone knows he’s a good friend of mine ... He’d be a welcome addition,” he said of Wisemantel before offering a similar endorsement of Taylor.
With the Wallabies job to be Rennie’s first at the highest level — and still a plum role despite the twice world champions’ struggles in recent years —- the New Zealander has sounded willing to get with the programme.
“First thing is to establish a high quality management and coaching group ... I think it’s important we have a really strong Australian flavour in that group,” said Rennie in a video posted by RA.
Rennie will be busy completing his commitments with Glasgow Warriors until June 2020 so Johnson and his assistants will do much of the legwork for the national team in the interim.
Before getting to grips with the job, Rennie should perhaps ponder what is meant by the “Aussie way” — a term used by the country’s rugby establishment to describe what it deems is the desired brand of rugby for the nation and its fans.
For Cheika, an iron-clad commitment to attacking rugby produced a quarter-final exit at the World Cup in Japan and a career win record of 50 percent, the equal worst of any Australia coach in the modern era.
“That’s the way Aussies want us to play,” Cheika said after his last game in charge.
Robbie Deans, the New Zealander who coached the Wallabies for five years, won nearly 60 percent of his games with a more defensive style.
But he was deemed to have strayed from the “Aussie way” and was duly swept away following the series defeat to the British and Irish Lions in 2013.
For Johnson, however, Rennie presented as a “humble man” and one who coaches “an attractive style of rugby” that most Australians will enjoy.
“I’m all for any coach that has a philosophy that says ‘this is what I’m going to live or die by,’” he said.
Editing by Peter Rutherford