Ewen McKenzie wants only good Australian citizens
March 28, 2014
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie is content with his playing stocks © Getty Images
Ewen McKenzie is looking at the attitude of his players as much as their form in plotting his course towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, saying professionalism and the desire to wear Wallabies gold will be major factors in considering Test contenders.
McKenzie, a 1991 Rugby World Cup winner as a player, made team culture a priority in his initial season as Wallabies coach, and he showed his intent by suspending six players and reprimanding nine others for late-night boozing in Dublin. And this season he has been picking the brains of Super Rugby coaches about player behaviours away from the game, and what motivates them.
"The attitudinal side - the right mindset and right behaviours - are a really important part of the make-up for me," McKenzie said. I'm actually looking for consistency, and the technical execution and behaviours and all those things are in the pot."
He is pleased with form of Australia's Super Rugby franchises in 2014, and with the competition for positions, but he's highlighted consistency as a key for players on and off the field.
James O'Connor cannot expect an ARU contract, Ewen McKenzie says © Getty Images
"I'm only interested in the ones that want to wear the jersey," McKenzie said when asked about off-contract Wallabies eyeing deals overseas and James O'Connor, who says he wants to come back from Europe next year to make himself eligible for the World Cup. "It's an interesting time but I'll just concentrate on the players that are eligible."
McKenzie, who has spoken with O'Connor but isn't involved in recruitment talks, O'Connor could not expect to demand money from the Australian board to return. "He knows he has to rebuild his situation so the first thing is he has to find a club that is interested in an arrangement," he said.
McKenzie and his fellow selectors will sit down in May to choose their first squad to play France in a three-Test series during June.
The coach said he was spoilt for choice in some areas - particularly inside centre where Kurtley Beale has joined Brumbies duo Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano in vying to be a second playmaker beside Quade Cooper, the current leader in ESPNscrum's inaugural Greg Growden Medal poll - but he's not getting too excited.
"Kurtley is a good player and no one has ever doubted he's a good player," McKenzie said. "He's in a different position so we'll see how that develops. It's early days but certainly he's influential."
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures