Australia Picks Ewen McKenzie as Rugby Coach After Deans Quits

Ewen McKenzie was hired as Australia rugby coach after Robbie Deans ended his record tenure following the series loss to the British and Irish Lions.

McKenzie, the director of coaching at the Queensland Reds Super Rugby team, was appointed through the 2015 Rugby World Cup and his first match in charge will be Aug. 17 against world champion New Zealand. He’s the first former Wallaby to go on to coach the team in 34 years.

With Deans’s contract due to expire at the end of the year, the Australian Rugby Union said it appointed an advisory group to assess potential successors as the 2013 season progressed, with consideration given to factors including leadership, discipline, coaching records, values and playing style.

“Having established the necessary criteria, and spoken to the relevant people, we were convinced that Ewen was the man to take the Wallabies forward,” ARU Chief Executive Officer Bill Pulver said today in a televised news conference in Brisbane.

McKenzie, 48, is charged with improving the Wallabies’ 58 percent winning ratio under Deans, a New Zealander who took over as Australia’s first non-native coach in 2008 and oversaw a record 74 Test matches. The ARU said Deans advised Pulver of his resignation late yesterday, two days after the Wallabies’ 41-16 loss to the Lions in their series-deciding match in Sydney.

McKenzie, who won the World Cup as a player with the Wallabies in 1991, said in March that he would leave the Reds at the end of the season and seek a job with a national squad.

“Earlier this year I put my hand up and said this is where I want to go,” McKenzie said. “I feel all the work I’ve done in rugby has channeled me to this point. It’s been a long journey. It was offered to me once before and I declined because I wasn’t ready. Now I definitely feel ready.”

Transformed Reds

The former front-row forward supervised the Reds’ transformation from Super Rugby strugglers to title contenders since taking over in 2010. The Brisbane-based team won its first provincial title in the professional era in 2011 and this year qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season.

McKenzie, who played 51 Tests as a prop for Australia, previously coached the New South Wales Waratahs and French club Stade Francais after ending a three-year spell as Wallabies assistant coach in 2003. After retiring as a player in 1997, he spent two years as coaching coordinator of the ACT Brumbies.

“Robbie just hasn’t been able to transform the Wallabies side into the side that we all hoped it would be when he was signed six years ago,” former Australia forward Brendan Cannon said on Fox Sports News. “Ewen’s earned the right, he’s done a long apprenticeship.”

Inconsistency, Indiscipline

Deans’s 5 1/2-season tenure was marred by inconsistent results and instances of player indiscipline, the latest coming two weeks ago when backs James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale were photographed at 3:50 a.m. in a fast-food restaurant three days before the second Test against the Lions.

Pulver today confirmed reports that two unnamed players had missed the team bus for the Wallabies’ final training session before the series-deciding Test against the Lions in Sydney.

McKenzie said he would ensure players understood their responsibilities as members of the national squad.

“I’ll make it quite clear what I want from a Wallaby,” he said. “It won’t be too complicated, but they need to understand the opportunity to play for the Wallabies is a purely representative one. It’s like a week-to-week contract and if you’re not doing the right thing at the right time, that week-to-week contract might not be there.”

New Zealand Nemesis

While the Wallabies won their first Southern Hemisphere championship in a decade under Deans, they also suffered a first ever defeat to Samoa, twice lost to Scotland and were routed 53-8 by South Africa -- Australia’s heaviest defeat in 114 years of Test rugby.

Deans was hired by the ARU in December 2007 after coaching New Zealand’s Crusaders to four Super Rugby titles. He guided the Wallabies to the Tri-Nations title in 2011, though the team was upset by Ireland in the pool stage of the World Cup later that year before losing to the All Blacks in the semifinals.

With Deans as coach the Wallabies won 43 of their 74 Tests lost 29 and drew two. In 18 matches against New Zealand in that span, the Wallabies managed just three victories as the All Blacks extended their grip on the Bledisloe Cup contested annually between the teams to 10 years.

“I’ll be picking the team that I think can beat the All Blacks,” said McKenzie. “In the end we want the Bledisloe Cup back. You couldn’t get a better opportunity to start. I don’t want to ease my way in.”

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