Australia

The rise of Ewen McKenzie

Tue, 09 Jul 2013 10:07
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I truly believe I'm ready to make a difference
Quote-end

Ewen McKenzie's appointment as Wallabies coach comes at the end of a long climb up the ladder for the Reds mentor.

He was in line for the role in 2005 after Eddie Jones was dumped but did not consider himself ready for Test duty. Now he does.

"As a role at the highest level, it's one I aspire to because I truly believe I'm ready to make a difference on many levels," he said.

Long touted as Deans' successor, the 48-year-old faces his first Test in just six weeks - against the mighty All Blacks in the Rugby Championship.

It will be the inaugural step in his task to elevate Australia back to the top of the international rankings after they bounced between second and third during Deans' tenure.

Deans' predecessor as Wallabies coach, John Connolly, hailed McKenzie's appointment.

"I think it's a good thing for Australian rugby," he told reporters. "It's important to have an Australian coach and Ewen deserves it."

McKenzie, however, offers more than just an Australian take on the game, with The Australian newspaper's rugby writer Wayne Smith noting that he had "educated himself in the school of hard knocks", first with the NSW Waratahs, then Stade Francais before being recruited by the Reds.

"During his four seasons at Ballymore, the Reds have emerged as one of the most exciting rugby teams in the game, blitzing the Super Rugby competition in 2011," said Smith.

"There is no question that the ARU is hoping he can get the Wallabies playing a similar mix of sizzling but also successful rugby. It's hang-onto-your-hats time."

Melbourne-born McKenzie has an impressive record not just as a coach but also a player, representing Australia 51 times between 1988-1997, becoming one of his country's most-capped props while being part of the 1991 World Cup-winning team.

He played club rugby at the Waratahs and Brumbies before taking up coaching after retiring in 1997.

McKenzie's abilities were soon recognised and he was hired as a Wallaby selector while working as an assistant coach and coaching coordinator to both Rod Macqueen and Jones at national level between 2000 and 2003.

During this time, he shared in two Tri-Nations victories and a series victory over the British and Irish Lions. He was also the Wallabies' assistant coach at the 2003 Rugby World Cup where they lost the final in extra-time to England.

McKenzie succeeded Bob Dwyer as head coach of the Waratahs in late 2003 and led them to two Super Rugby finals in 2005 and 2008 before moving to France, where he took Stade Francais to the semifinals of the Top 14 before being sacked the following season.

Queensland snapped him up and he transformed the club, guiding the franchise to a first Super Rugby championship in 2011 in addition to back-to-back Australian conference titles, transforming them into a powerhouse side before the ARU came knocking at his door.

ARU chief Bull Pulver said that in considering a replacement for Deans, they took into consideration "leadership skills, discipline, coaching capability, coaching records, and important factors such as character, values and style of play".

"Having established the necessary criteria, and spoken to the relevant people, we were convinced that Ewen was now the man to take the Wallabies forward," he said.

AFP

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