New era of Australian rugby begins with Dave Rennie

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said it: The Wallabies are in a rebuilding phase.

Other nations are, too - that is the nature of modern rugby's four-year World Cup cycles.

But those rebuilds are perhaps not as sizeable as the one that awaits the Wallabies, particularly given their Rugby World Cup exit and the complete breakdown of relations that was Michael Cheika's uncomfortable exit.

RA has, at least, swiftly locked in Cheika's replacement. The unveiling as Dave Rennie as coach on Wednesday came as no surprise but the governing body's ability to have the Kiwi signed, sealed and almost delivered - he will round out his commitments with Glasgow through to the end of current northern season - is indeed an impressive effort by Castle and her wider Rugby Australia colleagues.

But that is only the beginning ...


RA's pursuit of Rennie had been no secret and while England's run to the World Cup final suddenly thrust Eddie Jones back onto the radar, there was no way the Rugby Football Union was ever going to let the Australian walk. And so Rennie is the man.

The Kiwi has built an impressive provincial record with the Chiefs and more recently, Glasgow, and has long held a reputation as a shrewd operator who is big on culture and far more measured in his approach than the oft-volatile Cheika.

"He has been successful at every job he's taken on and I think his stats that have been talked about already have proven that he has had extensive success regardless of where he goes," Castle said. "One of the things he is very good [at] is building culture and making sure he works inside a culture; he respects hugely the Wallaby culture, the history, and at the end of day he's chosen this job.

"He had other offers, he had other countries chasing him but he chose this job because he sees the exciting potential in the current Wallabies squad and particularly exciting potential about the young talent that we've got coming through out of our 18s and 20s program."

Rennie will have a clean slate to work from and his opening three Tests will come against an Ireland outfit that could well rest many of its topline stars - given an exhaustive northern season that was preceded by the World Cup - and Fiji. It looks a far more inviting prospect than four years ago, when England were primed for their tour Down Under after a Six Nations Grand Slam but still motivated to atone for their World Cup flop on home soil.

Just how Rennie brings the squad for that series together will make for intriguing watching but he will really garner the national attention when the Rugby Championship begins and, ultimately, he oversees his first Bledisloe Cup encounter.

"He's a humble man and he plays an attractive style of rugby that most Australians will enjoy," RA director of rugby Scott Johnson added on Rennie's status as a New Zealander. "I think when you put all that together, there's more positives than negatives. So I think Australians will like what he stands for and I certainly do from our negotiations and the time I've spent with him."


You had to hand it to Cheika - he struck to his guns right through to his final shootout. "That's the way we play footy," Cheika said shortly after the Wallabies were beaten 40-16 by England in Oita. "I'm not going to go to a kick-and-defend game; maybe call me naive but that's not what we're going to do. I'd rather win our way. That's the way Aussies want us to play."

Playing the game in an attractive fashion is indeed necessary Down Under. In what is one of the world's most competitive sporting marketplaces, entertainment is an important factor. But there was method required to Cheika's attacking madness in the finish, and running the ball out from underneath the Wallabies posts was it.

What Australian fans will want from a Rennie-coached Wallabies is the ability to be adaptable. Whether it because of the opposition, the conditions, personnel or other factors, playing a free-flowing game that uses the complete width of the field isn't always going to be possible. Some Tests have to be ground out, others take on a chess-like battle. Plan A won't always get the job done.

"Australians want to see Australia play a brand that's attractive, but it's got to be successful," Johnson said of what Rennie might do with the Wallabies' style of play. "It just can't be willy-nilly, it's got to have method to it; he brings that, too. We see ourselves as an attacking nation, so rugby philosophy has to be discussed, we'd be silly not to do have it as part of the discussion.


Rugby Australia has its head coach, but must now add in Rennie's assistants. That process will be done in conjunction with the Kiwi and will include a strong Australian flavour.

At the top of the list is England assistant Scott Wisemantel, a man Jones credited as having played a leading role in England's run to the final as much as anyone else.

Asked directly by ESPN about the prospect of Wisemantel returning home to take on a spot in Rennie's staff, Johnson replied: "Well now, you're being specific, everyone knows he's a good friend of mine; he's a good coach, he's had success wherever he's gone and he'd be a welcome addition."

Johnson said similarly of current Scotland assistant Matt Taylor.

The governing body's desire to bring on the crop of locally based coaches with an eye to having an Australian head coach for the next World Cup cycle through to 2027. That could mean any of Dan McKellar, Dave Wessels or Brad Thorn join the Wallabies' staff at some point through the next four years, so too Under 20s coach Jason Gilmore who took that squad to the Junior World Championship final.

"We'll be in dialogue about that, we'd like to get an Australian flavour there," Johnson said of Rennie's backroom staff. "It's important that we get that because we have an obligation to get some young coaches through our system; we've got a lot of good young coaches coming through but there just not at the pointy end now. But the next cycle, we need to have genuine contenders for this position coming through our system."


Behind the horrors of Cheika's final two years in charge of the Wallabies, there was, this year at least, two bright stories for Australian rugby.

As mentioned above, the Junior Wallabies reached the final of the Junior World Championship final before suffering a heartbreaking one-point loss to France. They had already beaten New Zealand to win the Oceania Under 20s title, a feat the Australian Schools and Under 18s squad managed for the first time since 2012 just last month.

Under 20s captain Fraser McWright -- who last week won his second straight Under 20s Player of the Year title at the Rugby Australia Awards, and was also a finalist for the World Rugby Under 20s award -- is among the most promising of those youngsters. As has been the trend with Australia's best talent for the past few decades, he also plays No. 7.

Among Rennie's first assignments will be the need to find a No. 10 or at least set about building a group of potential Test five-eighths. Bernard Foley, Christian Lealiifano and Quade Cooper have all departed the scene for good, leaving only Matt To'omua - a player Cheika refused to start at fly-half throughout the World Cup - as an established option at pivot.

Could Australia Under 20s fly-half Will Harrison be the man? What about Western Force skipper and now Rebels recruit Andrew Deegan? And then there is boom Brumbies rookie Reesjan Pesitoa, who was at the helm of the Under 18s' victory over New Zealand.

They're certainly green but you have to start somewhere.


RA chief Castle has long been on record as saying the Giteau Law -- which allows players based overseas with 60 caps or more and those who gave seven years of service to Australian rugby to be eligible for the Wallabies -- is under review.

That was again thrust into the spotlight when one of the Wallabies' few genuine world-class performers from this year, Samu Kerevi, was reported as saying he was keen to switch allegiance to Fiji. The former Reds captain clarified his remarks by saying he had been misquoted, but it once again highlighted the ecosystem Australian rugby finds itself in.

Kerevi would undoubtedly be a player Rennie would love to have at his disposal but one the centre's move to Japan currently means the incoming boss won't be able to call on at Test level.

Could the 60-cap mark be reduced to 50 or 40 or even 30? The latter would see Kerevi suddenly become available, but fall just short of making another standout Wallabies performer from 2019, Rory Arnold [25 Tests], available.

"That will come off the back of the [Wallabies] review, there's no rush for us to have a look at that," Castle said of the Giteau Law. "And that's not just about thinking what it does for Rugby Australia, it's about thinking about the changes that are happening in the wider international landscape, what other countries are doing around their rules, where competitions land and the timing of those competitions; so it's a more complex piece of work than people realise."


It begins now. And the big advantage Rennie has over Cheika when comparing their post-World Cup starting points is that the New Zealander is virtually coming off rock bottom.

The Wallabies' embarrassing World Cup exit prompted a swathe of criticism, rightfully so, and has already brought about the departures of Cheika and RA chairman Cameron Clyne, and now Rennie's appointment.

He will of course be subject to the same narrative that dogged the Robbie Deans years - can a Kiwi really be completed invested in coaching Australia -- but the former Chiefs coach is far more charismatic than his New Zealand counterpart was.

The new era of Australian rugby has begun.