Ewen McKenzie values Wallabies' spirit
September 23, 2013
James O'Connor helped to create a serious divide in the Wallabies side © Getty Images
The Wallabies are on their way to the wild, wild west in a bid to avoid an OK Corral ambush and the embarrassment of finishing bottom in The Rugby Championship. At least Ewen McKenzie has brought some decorum back to his bunch of lost cowboys by showing during trying times that he is a sheriff with nous.
If the Wallabies had left for South Africa and Argentina with James O'Connor on board, after his long list of indiscretions culminating in very silly "you can knock me down with another shot glass" behaviour at Perth Airport, the Australian team would have lost what little credibility it had left.
It is no secret the Wallabies have in recent times turned off countless supposedly crusted-on fans through diabolical moments on and off the field. And the fear was that yet another off-field indiscretion was going to be brushed aside by a meek and mild Australian Rugby Union, whose officials when pursued by journalists for days last week sadly attempted to play down the seriousness of the O'Connor airport indiscretion.
Thankfully McKenzie, who said when he took over from Robbie Deans that he would be strict on player behaviour, rose above all this nonsense, proved true to his word, and decided that enough was enough. O'Connor stays home.
Also full credit to Wallabies captain James Horwill for coming out the next day and saying that O'Connor had let down the team. The antics of O'Connor, Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale have for a long time upset Wallabies teammates, creating a serious divide within the side.
James O'Connor now faces an uncertain future%]
Their ire is justified. The behaviour of the majority of Wallabies is exemplary. They are marvelous ambassadors, and 95% of them never get into trouble. Why? They understand decorum and the importance of good behaviour. They gladly stick to the rules. They understand the responsibilities involved in playing in the national colours.
But the silly and the wayward have smeared their image. And that's why the 95% get upset; because they have worked so hard to protect that image. So when the dumb ones were protected during the Robbie Deans era, the senior group, for justifiable reason, became disenchanted. Hence McKenzie's decision to leave O'Connor in Australia will have been greeted well by the players because they know their coach is fair dinkum, not full of hot air. He does have the interests of the team at heart.
Had O'Connor been on the Wallabies flight, his presence would have turned into a major distraction during their two weeks away, a storm cloud constantly hanging over a side when the majority of players didn't want him there. In such an unsettling environment, what hope would they have been to even be competitive against either the Springboks or Pumas? Now they are at least a chance. Not a good chance. But a chance.
Their trip is not enviable. Playing in Cape Town should appeal to the Wallabies - as the climate and conditions are similar to those to which they are accustomed - but their record at Newlands is dreadful. They have done absolutely nothing of note at the venue since 1992, with five successive losses in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2009. Even more disconcerting is the fact that South African teams inferior to the one they will confront on Saturday have beaten far better Australian line-ups than that jetting towards Cape Town.
Then onto Argentina and a tricky travel schedule just to get to Rosario. Defeating the Pumas is never a certainty on Argentine soil; three Wallabies lineups have lost there - all involving gun players. And this time their task in dry terms is harder because the Wallabies' back three, without O'Connor, are well short of experience. It looks flimsy.
O'Connor's exit gives someone else a chance, and hopefully that newcomer takes the opportunity and makes the most of it. In the long term, McKenzie actions will be rewarded. And the team deserves our support when such logical decisions are made because, as will be shown over the next fortnight, the heart and soul of the Wallabies remain.
Joe Tomane has been handed an opportunity © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Join the conversation with Greg on Twitter @GregGrowden
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton