The only way is up, baby – What the next Wallabies coaching setup should look like

As season 2023 comes to a thankful conclusion and we finally and forever see the back of Eddie Jones, you can only view the future with optimism – as Yazz and the Plastic Population sang in the 80s ‘the only way is up, baby’.

Now, optimism is in very short supply and for good reason. A lot of us were expecting a lot more from the coach who were were told fell down from heaven yet whose win record against our rivals of 0% (I’m not including random RWC games against tier 2 opponents) and subsequent jumping ship has left us at rock bottom. I think a straw poll would reveal a distrust from fans of the board to put it mildly, and certainly some well founded doubt that they’ll get the next appointment of anything right.

So, I’m encouraging fans to get a grip of the situation – start pushing names around in the hopes that a groundswell might get picked up on mainstream or at least be listened to or noticed by someone higher up. Probably ignored, but I’m off and have nothing better to do.

Below, I’ve outlined the main roles for the Wallabies going forward. I don’t believe we have a home grown coach ready to take the top job yet. There is a lot of potential. But I’d like to see them gain more experience. In that respect, I’ve not considered Dan McKellar or Dan Palmer. I’m really excited to see them coach Leicester. They will get enormous experience to bring home and take the top jobs down the line. I also didn’t consider Laurie Fisher as he has just taken a job with Australia’s under 20s.

Head Coach – Ronan O’Gara

O’Gara has done an amazing job with La Rochelle who are now one of the heavyweights of French rugby and a European powerhouse.

O’Gara’s methods are simple and successful – building a big angry pack and incorporating a mantra of ‘Keep Ball Alive’ or ‘KBA’. Ferociousness up front and a ball moving attack that challenges the expected. I want to see us attack again so much. We have the size, he’s worked with Will Skelton before and I really think it’s a match made in heaven. I had wanted Shaun Edwards previously but the French aren’t stupid. He signed on again due to a lack of options. Crazy.

Now for most the other positions I decided to follow the All Blacks model – bring in SR coaches. The benefits are pretty obviously two-ways and I think will help filter gameplay up and down and help our development through general alignment.

General manager/right hand man – Darren Coleman

Coleman and O’Gara might be different characters on the face of it but their similarities are many. Both are big team culture guys who try new ways of doing things. Sleep outs, barefoot sessions etc. I also think Coleman would be embraced by the playing group, really help nurture the younger players and have blue hat calmness in pressure situations.

Former referee – Wayne Barnes

I surely won’t need to explain why having a ref attached to the squad is important. It’s as vital to the Wallabies as any coaching position. Wayne is recently retired. Yes I know he has a second occupation. But…could he (and his family) be convinced to move out of a really stressful environment of threats and negativity to come our to a country that is a lovely place to live? Good schools, same language, great culture, great experience. There’s a lot to like and essentially for Wayne he’s cashing in some credit having refereed around the world. It might just be a case of ‘Wayne, where the bloody hell are you’?

Attack coaches – Stephen Larkham with Matt Giteau

Larkham is incredibly well respected. It didn’t work with Michael Cheika. I think the experience of Munster and European rugby in general would prove invaluable. As for Giteau, I’m not selling this and I shouldn’t have to. The guy played a lot of Tests, as well as winning domestic comps here and in France, Japan and America. He’s played with and against the best in the world. He’s seen so many variations of attack and defence and broken through them all. As an assistant, his intellectual property would be invaluable.

Defence coach – Les Kiss

I don’t know if the current incumbent is sticking around – and I hope not. But Kiss has a great understanding of rugby defence. He worked there for the Springboks, Waratahs and helped Ireland win their first grand slam in 60 plus years. He’s also done pretty well with his first head coach gig at London Irish transforming the team. He is a gem to have in Australian coaching circles.

Queensland Reds coach Les Kiss. (Photo by Brendan Hertel, QRU)

Lineout coach – Geoff Parling

Had a taste previously. Has done impressively well with the Rebels and is an expert in the field. Not much more to say.

Scrum and maul coach – Brad Thorn

As a player and a coach there’s very few things he hasn’t won. One of the great modern day locks. Again has been coached by the very best around the world and played in some of the best packs. His no nonsense approach also appeals to me in terms of the team. Whether you agree or disagree with Taniela Tupou’s recent comments, you can’t argue it didn’t look great coming from an interview with a table full of beers. I’ve been concerned about standards for a while and bigger personalities. Thorn will hold people to account. And if its a tough pack we want to build – he’s our man. I can see the likes of Nick Frost, Tom Hooper, Darcy Swain, Fraser McReight et al really growing with his guidance.

Kicking and skills coach – Dave Alred

Has worked with the best in the world. We need to improve, there’s absolutely no doubt. Currently we don’t have a first choice player playing in Australia who is a test goal kicker and we simply can’t leave points out there.

Ad finally…

RA Chairman – John Eales

Is the a person in Australian rugby circles who is more respected? He would bring so much to the role.

The team

Our backrow didn’t win a turnover in France. It’s not balanced. A big body at 6 in Hooper who topped the tackle count will get better, Rob Valetini used to be a jackling machine until he moved to 8 and gained extra work. I want him to play 7.

That opens up a spot for Harry Wilson who absolutely must accept his 100% hard charging commitment needs to be backed up with ruck work and groundwork. It also leaves a role for McReight to come on, raise the tempo, tackle hard and pinch turnovers and try to develop a game like Kwagga Smith.

Both Wilson and Valetini would have to become much better lineout options. Siya Kolisi is a lineout option for the Springboks and is shorter than both.

Rob Valetini of the Wallabies. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

If it wasn’t for injury, I believe Josh Nasser would already be a Wallaby and I think he will overtake Dave Porecki. In my opinion, Nasser is one of the best young players playing SR and potentially the most underrated.

Izzy Perese has so much power and determination and can set people up around him. I really wanted him to get more opportunities, and I think in his limited Wallaby game time he can be a real problem for defences.

We haven’t sorted a 15 out since Israel Folau. While the guys who have played there have some positives, none have been the right fit. I’d like to see Max Jorgensen given some time there. I like Jordan Petaia and think he is capable of great rugby, but his poor decision making in France and aimless grubber kicks really hurt us in much the same way he has pushing passes in the past. Not currently smart enough to be a run on international player but what a handful to come on fresh.

Carter Gordon continues his development under Quade Cooper who is partnered with Tate McDermott – the very embodiment of the KBA mantra. Skills need to improve, he’s not the complete package and he has a big job on his hands to keep the door shut on Ryan Lonergan.

Scott Sio is really playing well. I think having replacement props coming on who offer a point of strength rather than hoping they can hold their own will be vital in our short term development. Blake Schoupp, Rhys Van Nek, Matt Gibbon, Sam Talakai et’al are not there yet.

And finally – Darcy Swain. Abrasive, combative but wayward. He’d be Thorn’s pet project. If we can get the best out of him we have a hell of a player.

1. Angus Bell
2. Josh Nasser
3. Taniela Tupou
4. Nick Frost
5. Will Skelton O/S (c)
6. Tom Hooper
7. Rob Valetini
8. Harry Wilson
9. Tate McDermott
10. Quade Cooper O/S
11. Mark Nawaqanitawase
12. Samu Kerevi O/S
13. Len Ikitau
14. Izzy Perese
15. Max Jorgensen

16 Scott Sio O/S
17 Dave Porecki
18 Allan Alaalatoa
19 Darcy Swain
20 Fraser McReight
21 Ryan Lonergan
22 Carter Gordon
23 Jordan Petaia

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