Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has given an extensive interview to WWOS as we prepare for kickoff in Super Rugby AU.
No coaching spin here.
Wallabies boss Dave Rennie knows he’s in the results business and concedes the national team “are miles away from where we need to be” following a strange maiden season which netted one win, two losses and three draws.
And while he naturally would have loved to have turned those frustrating stalemates into triumphs, Rennie reckons they may well prove to have a golden lining in the long run.
“If we’d have won those games, which we should have and could have, we’d have won some silverware and maybe some people are thinking all the problems are solved,” Rennie told Wide World of Sports ahead of the 2021 Super Rugby AU season.
“But we’re miles away from where we need to be and that’s a good reminder of it. While it’s frustrating it’s realistic, it’s where we’re at and so it just drives the fact that we need to be better in lots of areas.”
The minor matter of a global pandemic made Rennie’s first season a tricky one to judge.
The fixture list was restricted to four Tests against the All Blacks and two against Argentina (both draws).
No country has to play New Zealand as often as Australia which is a double edged sword.
Competing so regularly against a perennial powerhouse can help lift standards of resilient players but consistent failure drains morale and self belief.
“You can say we won one out of six or we only lost two,” Rennie said.
“But I can’t fault the work ethic of the boys and the staff. We had 11 weeks in each other’s pocket and culturally we’ve done a lot of work. The group is really growing in that area.
“We’ve done a lot of work around leadership. We’ve made a start but we’re a long way away from where we need to be.”
So what are the problems and how does Rennie fix them?
The All Blacks like to talk about not having “a stone under the beach towel” over summer, an attempt to keep motivation high on gruelling end of season tours and avoid any lingering regret.
But there were plenty of pebbles niggling Rennie as he reflected on 2020 and a lot of the areas he raises seem alarmingly simple.
The New Zealander stresses that he expects growth to come after repetition under duress.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do around the basics, the quality of our catch-pass, the quality of our ball into contact and the effectiveness of our clean to generate quick ball – all massive focuses going forward,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot of stuff around decision making and our ability to do the obvious and play what’s in front of us. We’re not as instinctive in that area of the game as we need to be and it’s a massive part.
“We put a big emphasis around conditioning and repeat efforts so that’s still not where it needs to be from an international perspective… So there’s a lot to do and we’re a long way from where we need to be but a lot of really good men, their attitude to training was great, prepared to work hard and keen to learn. We’ve made a start.”
Being ranked sixth in the world – behind Ireland and ahead of Scotland – is probably a fair reflection of where the Wallabies are at.
COVID-19 permitting, a resurgent France are scheduled to tour Australia in July with World Rugby to make a call on that series next month.
Without making excuses for himself, Rennie was frustrated by a lack of hands-on time with his players before tackling the All Blacks last year.
Coronavirus and all the quarantining and bubbles that came with it, also greatly affected how Rennie could bed in his theories with new coaching sidekicks Scott Wisemantel, Matt Taylor, Geoff Parling and Petrus du Plessis.
“We’ve got an excellent staff so that’s exciting going forward because I think we’ve got a group who can make a real difference,” Rennie said.
“But we only got face to face about three days before we went to Christchurch.
“We’ve done a lot on Zoom, a lot of planning and the good thing about that is it’s forced you to be innovative in how you do things.”
In an extensive chat with Wide World of Sports, Rennie expanded on other key areas for the Australian game as an exciting new era kicks off on Nine and Stan Sport.
WHAT RENNIE WANTS TO SEE IN SUPER RUGBY AU…
I’d like to see a higher skill-set.
I reflect back onto our campaign, we got a lot fitter and that helps but from a skill-set perspective you need to be able to go multi-phase and stress teams and build pressure.
And if you’re turning the ball over then you’re not stressing defences.
An improved skill-set around all those key elements of the game would be massive I reckon.
Because what it does is it challenges defences and it will highlight the ability to go multi-phase and bend defences and expose them when you’ve squeezed them up.
And the stuff I’ve talked about around contact, we just need a lot of repetition around the basics for it to become instinctive.
There’s no doubt that being better conditioned is going to help get repeat efforts, get guys back to their feet quicker and in position quicker to defend or attack.
And that’s going to help so it would be really good to see a lot of examples of that in Super Rugby.
RENNIE’S IMMEDIATE PLANS AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUPER AND TEST RUGBY…
The next few months, I’m going to get to every club and spend a big chunk of a week there.
It just gives me a good chance to view everything they’re doing.
But it’s a chance for us to share ideas, too.
You get a bit of time to sit around and talk footy and there’ll be a lot of good things happening out there which we can utilise and hopefully we can share and help their campaign as well.
It’s OK to have differences.
If we all defended the same way for example, and then you played against a different nation who defend totally different and the players haven’t experienced that, it becomes difficult to break down.
The fact that the Rebels may defend differently than the Reds is a positive thing, I think.
Our job will be to get clarity on how we defend in certain parts of the field and take what’s been really good from a Super Rugby perspective.
We don’t have to be clones, we don’t have to play exactly the same way but I’m excited that the teams all want to play because you have to be really well conditioned for that.
And when you get to Test footy the game is quicker and it’s more demanding.
And we did a lot of work around trying to grow game awareness, and we’ve got a fair way to go on that too.
Some of it’s as simple as guys working harder to get into position so they can see and communicate the best options.
Even that stuff we’ve got to be a lot better at.
We need a blend.
We want the guys when they come back to us to be really well conditioned and powerful, developing their skill-sets further, and then we can put our structures around that.
That’s where we’re at.
RENNIE’S REFLECTIONS ON A ROLLERCOASTER 2020 SEASON…
Reflecting back, I thought we fronted pretty well in Wellington.
And we did a lot of good things in Auckland, I reckon the game was a lot closer than the 20 points we got beaten by.
But it did highlight things that we’d talked about.
You turn the ball over against the All Blacks or you kick, chase and tackle poorly – you’re going to get hurt.
And they had a 15 minute spell where they scored three quick tries and the Test is gone.
The one in Sydney, we made some system errors.
We tackled better than we did in Auckland, ironically, but got thumped because we gave Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga time and space and they hurt us down short sides and so on, they’re very clinical.
So that hurt because we felt that we were making shifts.
But there’s a lot of learnings from that.
We got down early and started chasing the game about 25 minutes in.
And what we needed to do was just get our game going and hang onto the ball and apply pressure.
But we started throwing a lot of offloads that weren’t on and got punished more.
Similar to the first Test in Brisbane, we put a bit of scoreboard pressure on them and did the basics pretty well.
We got a bit of reward from that and then the Argentinian Tests, we were very dominant first Test but didn’t put the foot on the throat.
We should have been well clear by halftime but credit to the Pumas, they defended really well, they hang in the game.
It highlighted from a game awareness perspective, up 15-6 with 20 minutes to go, against a side that’s not going to play any rugby, we just needed to put it down in the corners and force them to play and chase the game and profit off that.
But we overplayed our hand, gave away some long range penalties and (Nicolas) Sanchez is good enough to kick those.
So some good learnings from that.
In the conditions at Parramatta in the last Test, we got a red card and got behind on the scoreboard and we actually finished pretty strong and controlled that last 20 pretty well.
We showed some learnings from that.
CAN FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEMS BE FIXED OR ARE THEY TOO DEEPLY ROOTED…
I think there’s a lot of good stuff being done from the age grade perspective.
You look at the 20s campaign (Junior Wallabies making the World Cup final) and (coach) Jason Gilmore has done a fantastic job.
We’ve got some good kids coming through but a lot of the stuff I’m talking about is repetition.
Making sure that catch-pass technique under pressure and under fatigue is still really strong.
And likewise we’re trying to get a really strong connection between what’s happening in the gym and the type of athlete we’re trying to develop to play the type of game we want to play.
So we need to be a lot more powerful, especially in low positions around carry and clean and tackle and scrum and so on.
We’ve done a lot of work around that and then just trying to share our learnings with the Super Rugby teams and then the next few months is about us connecting with them and chipping in and helping where required.
Our staff will be a resource around Super Rugby but it’s not our job to tell them what to do.
It’s their time and they’ll play the way they want to play and play who they want to play.
But we’ve established pretty good relationships there over the last 12 months and they’re keen to build on that.